Randy Engel
A documentary: Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbus: The anatomy of a takeover bid, Part II
The dark side of Virgil Dechant’s legacy
By Randy Engel
May 6, 2024


Under Virgil Dechant’s leadership, the Knights of Columbus, that is, the local rank and file of the Knights, continued to raise millions of dollars in charitable funds for worthwhile projects at home and aboard including refugee relief programs especially in the Middle East; assistance to victims of natural disasters in the U.S. and abroad; the restoration of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and other Vatican antiquities; support for prolife emergency pregnancy services; and financially assistance to special needs groups.

These efforts, made possible by funds raised by local rank-and-file Knights, are not in dispute. They are fully acknowledged by this writer with the attached caveat I have endnoted.[1]

What is in dispute are the financial and moral misadventures of the Knights’ ruling Supreme Council members and Supreme Knight, Virgil C. Dechant, which later paved the way for further misadventures under Dechant’s Opus Dei successor, Carl Anderson.

The following is a sampling of the Knights’ deadly ill-advised grants, programs and policies that took place under the Dechant administration including the sexual abuse cases of minor boys by Knights that occurred under Dechant’s rule, but which were later ruthlessly litigated under the Anderson administration.

Its purpose is to provide further background on the Knights of Columbus, prior to the take-over of the corporation by Opus, and to document the growth of an ever-widening chasm that exists between the worldview of rank and file members of the Knights of Columbus and that of the Knights National officers who make up the ruling and spending class of the Knight’s corporate structure.

Dechant Refuses to Oust Pro-Abort Knights

One of the long-standing and on-going controversies surrounding the Knights of Columbus has been the refusal of the Supreme Council to dismiss from its ranks, well-known, self-proclaimed “Catholic” politicians,” with a consistent anti-life and/or pro-sodomy legislative history.

On Wednesday, November 1, 1989, leaders of the Prolife Movement challenged Supreme Knight Dechant to end the scandal in the Knights by ousting 10 well-known pro-abort “Catholic/Knights” including New York Governor Mario Cuomo, Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, and a long list of Democratic Congressmen.[2]

A Knights’ spokesman from the New Haven national headquarters disputed the claim stating that membership in the Knights only requires that a candidate be male, adult and a “practicing Catholic,” and only the pope and bishops can decide who is or is not a “practicing Catholic.”

Presumably then a prominent “Catholic/Knight” can be a radical racist or anti-Semite or a convicted child-molester and still retain his membership in the Knights.

In 2005, the retired Virgil Dechant, who was still on the Knights’ payroll as Supreme Knight Emeritus, told Knight Kenneth Fisher, founder of Concerned Roman Catholics of America, that the Knights would “NEVER” expel anti-life politicians. And, here we are, in 2024, 19 years later, under two new Supreme Knights’ administrations, and despite grassroots protests by hundreds of prolife Knights, Dechant’s prediction still holds for the Order.

The Hill & Knowlton Scandal

In 1990, the Knights Supreme Council decided to commit between $3 and $5 million to a plan designed by the American bishops to “reshape the abortion debate.” The idea was the brainchild of Cardinal John O’Connor of New York who convinced the Administrative Board of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference (NCCB/USCC), the bilateral bureaucratic arm of the American bishops, to hire a prestigious public relations firm and a sophisticated polling group to counter “pro-choice” propaganda and to get the “prolife message” out.

Never mind that every Sunday, Catholic priests around the world have a relatively attentive captive audience of pew sitters to whom they can directly deliver a short and simple “prolife message” – ABORTION KILLS AN UNBORN CHILD – STOP IT NOW!

Further, why pour millions of Knights dollars into an anti-life money pit, when the NCCB/USCC was already throwing away millions on its own “prolife bureaus” including the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (1974-2024) and the Bishops’ Committee of Prolife Activities?

As it happens, the firms of Hill & Knowlton and the Wirthlin Group were chosen to share the Knights’ millions the former agency to develop a campaign to challenge the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood, aka, Murder, Inc., and the latter agency which runs “focus groups” to discover what “stirs or angers people,” to conduct polls on what Americans think of abortion.

On August 12 and 13, 1980, more than 200 Roman Catholic bishops met in San Francisco at a secret conclave closed to the Catholic laity and the press to view the final products of the Hill & Knowlton firm funded by the Knights.[3]

One can hardly appreciate the grotesque absurdity of giving Hill & Knowlton a bloody cent, much less millions of Catholic dollars, without acknowledging the long list of the firm’s anti-life, anti-family clients including Upjohn Pharmaceuticals, Playboy Enterprises, and Time Warner.

The fact that

Knights Invest in Upjohn’s Abortifacient Development

Upjohn’s pharmaceutical history in the development of abortifacient drugs goes back to 1969, when the company received a 4-year National Institute of Health contract for $200,587 to develop an abortion prostaglandin-based drug that could be effective for early and late term killing of unborn children. Clinical testing of Prost in F2 alpha was conducted in the U.S. and around the world. Later, Upjohn developed Prostin E2 vaginal suppositories for early abortions and Meteneprost suppositories, designed for early, self-administered abortions. Upjohn also developed the dangerous injectable long-term contraceptive/abortifacient Depo-Provera.

By the early 1980s, Upjohn was on the boycott list of every pro-life group including Pharmacists for Life International and the U.S. Coalition for Life. The USCL had a 6” stack of Upjohn abortion-related documents sitting on its desk which were made available to prolife leaders throughout the U.S. and around the world.

You can image the shock among pro-lifers when they discovered in 1993, that the Knights had not only funded anti-life Hill & Knowlton to produce a prolife message” but that Knights insurance managers had invested upwards of $5 million in the “Merchants of Death,” aka, the Upjohn Pharmaceutical firm.[4]

How did Knights’ executives respond when news of their Upjohn investments surfaced? No apology there. They stonewalled. So much for the avowed “champions of ethical investing.”

Their public relations spokesman, Opus supernumerary, Russell Shaw, argued that the misappropriated insurance investments to anti-life groups represented only a small percentage of the National office’s investment program. Dechant, also misspoke, and revealed that the Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Research and Education Center (later renamed the National Catholic Bioethics Center[5]), an Opus consultant agency to the American bishops, and the Knights Supreme Council, had not voiced any objections to the Upjohn investments. Nor had the salaried Medical Director of the Supreme Council objected.

We will be returning to the Opus entities of Russell Shaw and the National Catholic Bioethics Center later in this series.

Hill and Knowlton and the Pornography Industry

Another of Hill & Knowlton’s infamous clients were Playboy and Time Warner, both notorious producers and promoters of pornography.

For decades, local and state councils have been leaders in the war against pornography. And to its credit, the Supreme Council since 2010 has backed them up with more than $250,000 in grants to Morality in Media (renamed the National Center on Sexual Exploitation). MIM, created in 1962, has effectively drawn public attention to the connection of pornography to the destruction of married and family life, sex trafficking, prostitution, violence against women, child sexual abuse, and organized crime.

The Meese Commission Pornography Report was released in late June 1986 under the Reagan Administration. It helped put teeth into anti-porn laws and litigation. Immediately, the multi-billion-dollar pornography industry hired none other than Hill & Knowlton to discredit the findings of Meese Commission. Christie Hefner, daughter of Playboy Enterprises founder Hugh Hefner, gave credit to Hill & Knowlton for countering the Commission Report. Playboy Enterprises was also a regular client of the ad agency.

The Columbian Squires and the Sex Abuse of Minors

The Columbian Squires is the official junior organization of the Knights of Columbus and directly subordinated to it. The idea for organizing a new youth order of the Knights came up in August 1922 at the annual Supreme Council meeting in Atlantic City. About the same time Christian Brother Barnabas McDonald, F.S.C., was also contemplating a similar proposal for an international fraternity for boys ages 10 to 18.The venture was adopted by the Knights at a Supreme Council meeting in Montreal in August 1923. Two years later, Brother McDonald founded the first Squires circle, Duluth Circle 1 in Duluth, Minn., which was officially recognized in ceremonies held at the Knights annual convention that year.

As envisioned by McDonald, “The supreme purpose of the Columbian Squires is character building. Ideally, the program strives to provide “the spiritual, cultural, civic, social and physical improvement of its members, and the development of their leadership qualities.”

Organized into local Circles, 1,000 at the organization’s peak, the Columbian Squires Circles are individually sponsored and supervised by a Knights of Columbus Council or Assembly. Each has an Advisory Board of local Knight officials, and Counselors drawn from the Knights, who act as guides for the young members.

Squires, we are told, “have fun.” Their motto is Esto Dignus, Latin for “Be Worthy.” Unfortunately, however, not all Squires “have fun,” and not all Squire leaders are “worthy.”

Like Catholic junior seminaries in the post-World War II era” and the Boy Scouts, the Columbian Squires has become a happy hunting ground for homosexual pederasts. Equally unfortunate is the fact that while the majority of Knights are family men, when push comes to shove, Knights leaders have behaved as wickedly as any member of the hierarchy intent upon covering-up the sexual abuse of children.

There are five cases in this study the Jim Dennany Case, and the John Doe 1 Cases which were filed at the same time and place in New Haven, Conn. in December 2010;The Steve Fagan Case; the Father William Barry McGrory Case; and Justin Georges Stephen Coulombe Case involving the Canadian branch of the Columbian Squires all involving the sexual abuse of young Squires, by lay adult Knights.

Please note that this report does not include two other earlier Squire sex abuse lawsuits filed against the Knights of Columbus which were discovered by Knights’ attorney Kevin O’Connor when his staff was going through the archives researching the John Doe 1 Case in 2010. We know nothing about these alleged abuse cases, which also occurred under the Dechant administration, because according to O’Connor, due to confidentiality concerns [aka, possible outside settlements by the Knights], he was unable to discuss the details of these secret sex abuse cases.[6]

(To be continued)


[1] Under the Anderson administration volunteer support is billed at a whopping $21 per hour. The ratio of overhead to funds earmarked for these charities is not disclosed. There is substantial reason to believe that the amount that actually reaches the intended charity is substantially less after the various overhead payments made to the Knights. It is also probable that the membership numbers of the Knights at two million is grossly inflated given the heavy aging of the U.S. population and the massive decline in Mass attendance at Novus Ordo parishes. Despite various legal maneuvers of Knights of Columbus former members to obtain official updated membership lists of its councils, Knight officials have successfully resisted any public disclosure of current membership records. In 2017, a contract lawsuit was filed in 2017 by UKnight, a Colorado-based IT firm employed by the Knights who charged that the Order “engaged in an elaborate conspiracy to artificially inflate the Knights of Columbus’ insurable membership numbers and artificially improve” its ratings by insurance rating companies, thereby making people more likely to buy its life insurance.” The complaints noted that large numbers of inactive members on their local council’s rolls, that senior members of the Knights of Columbus ignored their questions about it, and that they had to use donations meant for charity or pay out of pocket to cover dues owed by what they began calling “phantom” members. See The Knights Of Columbus Is Facing Allegations Of Insurance Fraud (buzzfeednews.com). In June 2018, Knight Executive Thomas P. Smith, salaried at $900,000 a year suddenly retired from his post as the Knights’ Chief Insurance Officer. On January 31, 2020, Anderson warned of the crisis in Church membership and its implication for Knight membership. See In major change, Knights of Columbus drop secret initiation ceremony | Catholic News Agency. The UKnight lawsuit was settled in the fall of 2019 in favor of the computer company, but for a very low sum of $500,000 rather than the 100 million amount it petitioned the court for.

[2] Ann Rodgers-Melnick, “Knights of Columbus refuses call to oust 10 for pro-abortion stand,” The Pittsburgh Press, Nov 4, 1989, p. A12.

[3] “Public Relations Firm to Present Anti-Abortion Effort to Bishops,” NYTimes, August 14,1980.

[4] Credit for the expose goes to Tom Strobhar, who founded Pro Vita Advisors, an organization promoting prolife investments. See “Knights’ investments support abortifacient drug makers, Pill producers, and pornographers,” HLI Newsletter, April 1995.

[5] The term “bioethics,” is an academic fraud. See Dr. Dianne Irving’s excellent papers on the subject at http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_257falsedefinition.html; http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_36whatisbioethics01.html; http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_02ethics1.html; http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_42whichethics1.html.

[6] “Knights of Columbus previously sued for sex abuse,” Associated Press, December 17,2010.

© 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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June 17, 2024
A Documentary: Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbus – The anatomy of a takeover bid, Part IX

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