BuzzFeed News spoke to seven current and former Knights of Columbus, two of whom are involved in the case, and reviewed emails, court documents, and internal membership spreadsheets and contact lists. All of the men were in leadership positions in their local chapters that enabled them to have access to membership information. The men were from four different states and seven different towns, but their stories were nearly identical. All of them said that they noticed 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.
Each of the men said they joined the Knights of Columbus years ago because they wanted to do good work; the group was influential and respected in their local parishes. And the Knights did do good work, giving back to their parishes and creating a sense of community. It was worth the $30 to $100 annual membership fee. Once they entered leadership positions, however, they each noticed something odd — there were dozens of inactive members on each of their books who hadn’t paid their dues or participated in the Knights in years, sometimes over a decade.
The men tried to contact the members to see why they weren’t paying their dues, but many of them had moved away, changed parishes, left the Catholic Church, or, in some cases, were listed as over 100 years old and were almost certainly no longer alive. In one case, an internal membership spreadsheet provided to BuzzFeed News showed that of one council’s 399 members, 97 were inactive. After making several efforts to get in touch, the leaders of the council managed to track down most of them, but two were dead, about 40 said they planned to withdraw from the Knights, and they never managed to find another 30 of the members.
When they tried to alert the state and national council of Knights, known as “the Supreme Council,” about the issue, they were instructed to jump through nearly impossible hoops to get the inactive members off their rolls, they said. Several of the men pointed out that this goes against a section of the Knights of Columbus constitution that states that after three months of a member not paying his dues, he “ipso facto forfeit[s] his membership.” But this didn’t seem to matter to their higher-ups.
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All of the men who spoke to BuzzFeed News said they still greatly valued the work done by the local chapters, and recognized how important the Knights were to their communities.
“What they’re doing is so un-Catholic,” a man from Texas who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution from the Knights said. “When I found out what they were doing, I almost resigned.”
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All of the seven agreed that the Knights were not a lost cause, but said the organization’s leaders need to be held responsible for what is happening. The local Knights have to fight for what’s right, they said, and go against the Supreme if that’s what’s necessary.
“It’s like David versus Goliath,” Mishork said. “But the truth has to come out.”
“A Powerful Catholic Group Is Facing Allegations of Insurance Fraud: The Knights of Columbus is being accused of inflating its numbers to appear more profitable to insurance companies — and some of its members say they’re paying the price.” by Ema O’Connor, BuzzFeed News, August 22, 2019