Randy Engel
A documentary: Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbus: The anatomy of a takeover bid, Part I
Background on the Knights of Columbus
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By Randy Engel
May 3, 2024

Introduction

In the business world, a “takeover bid” is defined as an attempt by a competing person or entity to gain control of a company by buying up most of its stock. Militarily speaking, it is a hostile act of assuming power and control over a country, political party, movement or corporation by deception, stealth, fraud, and if needed – force.

For the last thirty-plus years, the Knights of Columbus, one of the world’s most powerful, and wealthiest Catholic business and fraternal corporations has become a hapless target of infiltration, assimilation and control by the international quasi-religious money/power entity known as Opus Dei.[1]

This study of the bloodless coup d'état by Opus Dei, hereafter referred to as Opus (since it is not of God), against the Knights of Columbus is based on public records and documents, news articles, and IRS 990 returns of the Knights and other key organizations involved in the organization.

The study is by no means a definitive work because much of the needed financial data and minutes of board meetings, etc., can only be obtained by legal proceedings, including the pre-trial litigation process of “discovery,” and the testimony of the Supreme Knights, past and present, taken under oath, as well as those of the Knights’ other national officers, board of directors, advisors, and consultants. Financial records would also have to be subpoenaed from banks and other financial institutions.

This study is further complicated by the fact that lay membership of Opus, specifically the names of its numeraries, supernumeraries, and cooperators (with the exceptions of select public Opus figures) is kept secret both in practice and by statute.[2]

However, while Opus’ capture of the Knights of Columbus and its assets is well advanced, it is not yet a done deal.

This series of eight installments is written with two objectives in mind:

    First, it is intended to provide the reader with a step-by-step description of how Opus goes about infiltrating and colonizing very wealthy and influential organizations and media outlets and relieving them of millions of dollars of their business and charitable donations which are systematically funneled into the coffers of Opus “apostolates” to further the ambitions and programs of “The Work.”

    Second, it is written with the hope that the long-suffering, hard-working rank and file members of the Knights, who represent the salt-of-the earth and who constitute the basic unit of the Knights, will discover within themselves, the will and the means, to resist both the internal and the external forces of Opus upon their fraternity, including the top leadership members of the corporation who have become, willingly or unwilling, shills and water-boys for the powerful Prelature.

One of the Knights’ mottos is “We are men who get things done.” I hope that will be the case at this critical juncture of the history of the Knights of Columbus.

Key Background Notes on the Knights of Columbus

Although most adult Catholics around the world know of the existence of the Knights, not every Catholic has a working knowledge of its history and universal charitable and business operations. Far less Catholics have any knowledge of the entity known as Opus Dei or “The Work.”

For these reasons, the early part of this series is dedicated to bringing, up to speed, members and non-members of these two key organizations, before documenting the specifics of Opus’ capture of the Knights of Columbus.

We begin with the Knights of Columbus followed by important information on Opus. The well-known Catholic fraternity and insurance corporation known as the Knights of Columbus, a tax-exempt 501(c)(8) “Fraternal Benefit Society,”[3] was founded in 1882 by Father Michael J. McGivney, the Irish American pastor of St. Mary’s parish in New Haven, Conn.[4] The Order is consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As Catholics were (and are) forbidden by the Church from joining Freemasonry lodges and other secret societies, and were often barred from labor unions and existing social services, Father McGivney (now Venerable Servant of God)[5] wanted to insure the welfare of widows and orphans following the death or incapacity to work of the family’s breadwinner by establishing a fraternal mutual benefit society. He named his organization the Knights of Columbus in honor of the great Italian Catholic navigator and explorer, Christopher Columbus. The Order is dedicated to the four-fold principles of Charity, Unity, Fraternity, and Patriotism.

The Order swiftly spread throughout New England, then throughout the entire United States. Today are somewhere between 14,000 and 16,000 councils of the Knights of Columbus, depending on the source, and they can be found in the far-flung corners of the world including U.S. territories, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Panama, the Bahamas, Cuba, Guatemala, South Korea, Ukraine, Lithuania, and on many U.S. military bases.

The governing structure of the world’s largest Catholic family fraternal service corporation organization – a Fortune 1,000 company – with nearly 2 million members is relatively simple.

The ruling Supreme Council is made up of 21 members, seven of whom are elected every three years, and headed by a Supreme Knight, the chief executive officer and Chairman of the Board.

Rank and file members fill the State and local Councils of the 50 States and Canadian provinces led by District Deputies, Grand Knights, and other elected officials. Assemblies, 3,109 in number, are distinct from Councils, and are led by a separate set of elected officers.

New members progress from the First Degree to the Second and Third Degree with the Fourth Degree (Sir Knight) being the highest Degree. The Fourth Degree Assembly’s Color Corps is the most coveted and honorable arm of the Order.

While Charity is the foremost principle of the Knights of Columbus, the corporation currently has $119 billion of life insurance in force as of 2022.[6] This income makes the Order’s charities possible. In 2022 the Knights donated $154 million to charity.[7]

Opus Targets the Knights of Columbus

From this brief summary of official, but not necessarily accurate membership or financial data taken from the Knights’ publications, it is easy to see why the Order would most certainly be a prime target for Opus infiltration and colonization.

It is not as easy, however, to determine when that effort began in earnest.

The history of the 13-year administration of Boston educator, John McDevitt, the Order’s 11th Supreme Knight from 1964 to 1977 gives little or no clues that the corporation was a specific target of Opus at this time, although it may have been on the Prelature’s drawing board for future acquisition. McDevitt was a prominent and active advocate of social justice. He opposed racial discrimination including any such discrimination in the ranks of the Knights, which leads me to believe he would not have looked kindly on Opus’ system of “numerary assistants/auxiliaries,” aka, indentured servants.[8]

McDevitt had a good business sense. Under his administration, the Knights experienced a period of dramatic financial and membership growth. The Knights’ income is derived mainly from dues, revenues from councils, assemblies, and chapters, life insurance policies and interests gained from investments.

He was an advocate of improved social communications both in the Order and at the Vatican, one area of interest that he did share with the Prelature. Not unexpectedly, in keeping with the early euphoria surrounding the Second Vatican Council, at the Supreme Council meetings of 1965 and 1966, McDevitt instructed his fellow Knights to cooperate with the Conciliar Church’s call for “renewal” and “reform.” This ill-conceived advice, as we shall see, contributed heavily to the destruction of the faith within the Knights’ structure and would open the Knights leadership and administration to an eventual takeover by malignant secular and liberal anti-Catholic forces.

In 1971, the Supreme Knight was honored by Pope Paul VI with the beautiful Grand Cross of the Order of Pope Pius IX (Pian Order), the highest degree of knighthood that can be bestowed on a Catholic layman who is not a head of state. In 1998, a scholarship fund was created in his name.

Time and money prevented this writer from tracking down the salary and commissions of McDevitt and other Knight officials received, but it is doubtful that it would run anywhere near the millions of dollars not including cash bonuses, stock bonuses, profit sharing, retirement bonuses and other perks as was the case under McDevitt’s successor, Virgil C. Dechant, who was a horse of a completely different color – a color that would find great favor with Opus Dei.

The Long Legacy of Virgil C. Dechant

For more than 23 years, the Kansas-born farmer and car businessman, Virgil C. Dechant, served as the 12th Supreme Knight (1977-2000) – the longest term ever for a Supreme Knight.

Dechant’s long term of office, was, coincidently, comparable to the 27 years papacy of Pope John Paul II, the essential promoter and protector of Opus."[9]

Indeed, the intimate relationship of John Paul II to Opus and to the Knights of Columbus is of such a symbiotic nature that it would be impossible to discuss one without critically referencing the other two.

Virgil Dechant joined the ranks of the local council Kansas Knights in 1948 at the age of 18, and gradually worked his way up numerous State and National offices including Assistant Supreme Secretary, Supreme Master 4th degree in 1963, and Supreme Secretary from 1967 to 1977, when he reached the pinnacle of his career as Supreme Knight and CEO of the Knights of Columbus. His long reign signaled a major paradigm shift in money, power, and prestige in the Knights.

Along with the title of Supreme came more than a dozen honorary degrees, awards and honors including:

  • Board of Director of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.

  • Trustee of Catholic University of American, Washington, D.C.

  • Board of Director of the Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio

  • Member of the Pontifical Council for the Family (1982 – )

  • Member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications ( 1990 – )

  • Former Vice President of the Vatican Bank (IOR)

  • A Gentiluomo di Sua Santità (a Gentleman of His Holiness)

  • Councillor on the State Council for Vatican City

  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Pius IX

  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great

  • Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher

In Virgil Dechant’s biography, The Fraternalist[10] (2017) written by his son, John Dechant, the Supreme Knight Emeritus recalls his private audiences, meetings, and personal ties to Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, along with other world figures including U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and a long list of U.S. Apostolic Delegates, and top members of the Vatican Curia.

His was an era of major paradigm shifts of money, power, and influence at the Knights’ monumental 23-story four tower international corporate headquarters at 1 Columbus Circle, New Haven, Conn., which serves as home to the Supreme Council.

In 1981, three years after Pope John Paul II took office, Dechant played a key role in the establishment of Knights’ Vicarius Christi Foundation which provides millions of dollars in discretional funds for the pope’s personal charities. Dechant assured the Knights that the money would solidify the bond between the papacy and the Knights “in perpetuity.” Of that we can be certain.

The initial base allotment of $10 million to the Vicarius Christi Foundation, the earnings on which are gifted to the pope, was increased to $20 million in 1988. Every year since its founding, the fund has dispensed between $1.5 million and $2 million in unaccountable funds to the Holy Father.

In “Papal Memories,” which appeared in the Knights’ official magazine, Columbia, in March 2011, Dechant recollects:

    At the 100th Supreme Convention [in Hartford, Conn., in 1982], I was able to arrange a private lunch between President Reagan, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal [Agostino] Casaroli, Archbishop Pio Laghi, Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Mr. William Wilson, who was the president's representative to the Vatican, and one or two others. They met in my suite, but I was not present. At that meeting, they discussed the future ambassadorial relationship between the United States and the Vatican. Within the year, both countries accepted each other. Archbishop Laghi became a nuncio and Mr. Wilson became the first ambassador from the United States to the Holy See. …

    The last time I saw the Holy Father was during an audience following a concert. He saw me down the line and grinned. Bishop, now Cardinal, Donald Wuerl later joked, “After you, he forgot about all the rest of us…” We related, communicated. The point is it really got down to trust. The Holy Father trusted us. He was comfortable knowing we wouldn't pull any surprises. It goes back to our presence in Rome and our modus operandi: We just let them know that we were there for service, and when they wanted us, they knew where to find us. …

    One of the warmest short audiences [one of more than 70 different visits] I had with Pope John Paul II was in September as he was recuperating at Castel Gandolfo. My wife, and Count Galeazzi and I went over to see the Holy Father. He still looked very much underweight, but he had a warm smile on his face, and you could see that he was on his way to recovery. …

    The funeral in 2005 was one of the few times I served in my capacity as a Gentleman of His Holiness. I decided I would join the Vatican staff and help usher in the visiting dignitaries and pay my respects in that way. Almost every head of state in the world was there. … He (Pope John Paul II) captured the world.

Pretty heady stuff.

Although Dechant formally retired as Supreme Knight in 2000 with a “golden parachute” bonus of $2,164,805 (this was in addition to his annual salary and insurance sales commissions estimated to have been well over the $500,000 range), he remained a lifetime Supreme Director of the Knights with compensation of $27,000 a year until his death in 2020.

Dechant’s Opus Dei Connections

When and under what circumstances Dechant was introduced to Opus Dei in Rome we do not know. Msgr. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, established his headquarters, the Villa Tevere, in the plush Parioli district of Rome in 1946. Dechant Became Supreme Knight in 1977. So while Dechant may have known about Opus by the late 1970s, any real meaningful relationship with the organization would most likely have occurred in the early 1980s under Pope John Paul II, most certainly by 1984, when Opus numerary and super intelligence collector for Opus, Dr. Joaquín Navarro-Valls, took over as Director of the Holy See’s Press Office. It is also important for the reader to remember that it was Dechant who in 1987 hired the two key personages of Opus’ take- over of the Knights, Russell Shaw and Carl Anderson to head the Knights Public Relations and lobbying office in Washington, D. C. We also know that when the Pontifical Academy for Life was founded in 1994 under the leadership of the well-known Opus Dei-connected Professor Jerome Lejeune of Paris, Supreme Knight Dechant joined with Opus to fund and control the Academy.[11] So there had to be some degree of collaboration between the Knights and Opus by the early 1990s. What we don’t know with absolute certainty, however, is the degree to which Dechant understood Opus’s obsessive lust for money and power and its capacity to financially and otherwise exploit powerful organizations like the Knights for its own ends.

The Dark Side of the Dechant Era

On February 22, 2020, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, delivered a eulogy for former Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant titled “A Man Who Was True,”[12] at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kansas. His tribute recalled all the accomplishments, great and small, of his predecessor. And there were many.

However, there was also a dark side to the Dechant legacy, a dangerous detour in the future life of the Knights of Columbus, which Anderson obviously was obliviously not eager to discuss at the funeral, but which we will cover as part of our background material on the Knights in Part II of this series.

(To be continued)

________________________

[1] For readers who are unacquainted with the various operations of Opus Dei, the following resources will provide valuable basic criticisms of its public and internal policies and programs; Opus Dei WATCH – contact author at rvte61@comcast.net; ODAN Opus Dei Awareness Network – "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32; and Opus Dei: a ROAD to nowhere? (opuslibros.org). For a financial and corporate assessment of Opus Dei’s business and political practices see Robert Hutchison’s Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei (1999).

[2] See Articles 189 – 195 of Opus Dei’s 1950 Constitutions at ODAN – ODAN Opus Dei Awareness Network.

[3] As a 501 ( c ) (8) (fraternal benefit society The Knights are allowed to engage in limited direct political activities without jeopardizing their tax exempt status.

[4] For a generally favorable and uncritical history of the Order see Christopher J. Kauffman’s Faith and Fraternalism- The History of the Knights of Columbus (1882-1982).

[5] The cause of sainthood for Father McGivney was opened in 1997, and he was declared a Venerable Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2008 in recognition of his life of heroic virtue. One Vatican-approved miracle through his intercession is needed for beatification, and another miracle is needed for canonization.

[6] 2022 Annual Report of the Supreme Knight | KofC.org. Insurance in force is a calculation of the total amount of money owed to policy holders.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Numerary assistants are unmarried, female members of Opus Dei. the numerary assistants do not have conventional jobs outside of the centers – instead, their professional life is dedicated to looking after the domestic needs of the centers. Numerary assistants are required to be celibate, and they generally practice mortification. See Opus Dei commission investigates alleged exploitation of women workers | Crux (cruxnow.com). Even though the article is written by a Crux unidentified member of Opus, it will provide the reader with a good understanding of this form of indentured servitude.

[9] Apostolic constitution "Ut sit" – Opus Dei.

[10] The Fraternalist: The Remarkable Life of Virgil C. Dechant, The 12th Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus: John Dechant: 9780984295432: Amazon.com: Books.

[11] Robert Hutchison, Their Kingdom Come-Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei, Doubleday, London, 1997, p. 397.

[12] Virgil Dechant Remembered | KofC.org.

© Randy Engel

 

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Randy Engel

Randy Engel, one of the nation's top investigative reporters, began her journalistic career shortly after her graduation from the University of New York at Cortland, in 1961. A specialist in Vietnamese history and folklore, in 1963, she became the editor of The Vietnam Journal, the official publication of the Vietnam Refugee and Information Services, a national relief program in South Vietnam for war refugees and orphans based in Dayton, Ohio... (more)

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