The Editor: On Jan. 25, the Prairie Messenger published a column by Yvonne Zarowny in which she criticizes the Knights of Columbus in general and Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in particular for being “anti-choice” rather than pro-life. This column reflects a profound ignorance of the work of the Knights of Columbus, as well as a misunderstanding of the consistent teaching of the church and of Pope Francis himself on the subject of abortion.
There is no indication that Ms. Zarowny relied on anything other than her own prejudices and political disposition in writing this column, and she certainly did not bother to contact the Knights of Columbus in advance. The result is a plainly defamatory column in which she states, with no evidence, that the Knights of Columbus is attempting to “spread the ‘American gospel’ of unrestrained capitalism” throughout the world, at the expense of vulnerable peoples and the environment.
As counsel for the Knights of Columbus, I respectfully request that you publish a retraction.
In light of the column’s multiple factual inaccuracies and misleading statements, which characterize the Knights of Columbus as a sinister organization interested in amassing wealth and power “to the detriment of hundreds of millions as well as future generations,” it is hard to escape the conclusion that it was Ms. Zarowny’s intention to cast the Knights of Columbus in an unfavourable light, and not to enlighten your readers with accurate and relevant news and information.
Please take a moment to read (my) . . . inventory of Ms. Zarowny’s inaccurate statements about the Knights of Columbus and the pope’s encyclical. Her column manages to twist the church’s teaching about life beyond recognition, while casting aspersions on Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a saint who is beloved by hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.
And in characterizing the supreme knight as “anti-choice” rather than pro-life, suggesting that he and the Knights of Columbus are out of step with Pope Francis, Ms. Zarowny also managed to neglect the Holy See’s annual letters of greeting to the Order’s supreme convention, which effusively praise the Knights of Columbus for its contribution to the mission of the church. In this regard, I would also note that the supreme knight met with Pope Francis in a private audience just last week.
Omissions, false statements, and mischaracterizations are the opposite of what one would expect from a Catholic publication, especially when writing about matters of importance to other Catholics.
The enclosed document also describes some of the Order’s recent charitable activities and contributions, reflecting its commitment to the full range of pro-life activities, including care for the environment. Most, if not all, of these items would have been available to Ms. Zarowny had she bothered to do any basic research, call the Order’s Communications Department, or to review its website and publications. That she neglected to do so reflects, at a minimum, a professional negligence that is troubling.
That you would publish such a column suggests a serious breach of journalistic ethics. In that regard, I note that in an article published online in Lifesite News (Feb. 9, 2017) you attempted to defend Ms. Zarowny by stating “I think she’s trying to encourage the Knights of Columbus to take a broader view of their pro-life stance than just anti-abortion. I’m a Knight myself and I think the Knights of Columbus do have a broader view.”
Notwithstanding your defence, there was nothing “encouraging” about this column. And if you, as the editor, knew that the Knights “do have a broader view,” then why did you allow this column to be published? Indeed, since 1990, when you joined the Order, you have been receiving Columbia magazine, which each month showcases the numerous charitable activities undertaken by local and state councils and the Order as a whole.
Furthermore, as state chaplain of Saskatchewan, it is likely that you attended Knights of Columbus conventions and other meetings at which you would have had an opportunity to observe, hear about, and participate in the Order’s numerous and diverse charitable and fraternal activities. You would have met many Knights and their wives and family members, good men and women who are trying to live out their Catholic faith through prayer, charity, and the public witness of their good works, including but certainly not limited to pro-life activities. It is, therefore, surprising that you would publish a piece that is so uncharitable and insulting to any person or group of people, let alone fellow Catholics in your own backyard and under your own pastoral care.
We have frequently heard from Catholic leaders, including Pope Francis, about the need for charitable public discourse on matters relating to the faith. In this regard, Catholic media should be examples of charity, assuming the good intentions of others unless there is persuasive evidence to the contrary.
Ms. Zarowny’s column is a counter-example: she has patched together half-truths, outright falsehoods, and conclusory statements in order to lead readers to conclude that the Knights of Columbus as an organization is motivated solely by self interest and that it cares little for the health and welfare of people and the environment. Shouldn’t a Catholic publication such as the Prairie Messenger have a higher standard? Shouldn’t it be setting an example of truthfulness and charity in public discourse? Shouldn’t it be a model for how Catholics should speak and write about other Catholics?
While the Order is deeply grateful for your service over the many years you have been a member, it is disappointed that you allowed Ms. Zarowny’s column to be published. In addition to a retraction, the Order asks that you consider publishing a piece reflecting the true nature of the organization, which has helped untold thousands of Knights, family members, and parishioners grow in faith and charity through service to the church and people in need.
Alternatively, the Order asks that you consider publishing a piece submitted by the Knights of Columbus about its worldwide charitable mission. — L. Martin Nussbaum, Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie, Colorado Springs, CO