“They also tell us that secrecy is unnecessary, and sometimes, it is even an impediment to joining,” Anderson added. He cited a lack of manpower in local councils to perform degree ceremonies. Some candidates give up, and some never seek second and third degrees.
“Last year, little more than half of the men who took their First Degree also took their Third Degree,” he said, adding that the number of third degree teams is expected to decline.
He said the current system is “too often a stumbling block, not a gateway to membership” that often fails to promote “a truly Catholic fraternal membership according to the vision of Father McGivney.”
“Our ceremonials have always been an essential way we teach the principles of charity, unity and fraternity. But today, too many men never hear the lessons of unity and fraternity,” he said, adding that the failure to reach members “threatens the future of our order.”
Anderson said the crisis facing the Church is fundamentally “a failure to evangelize.”
“Such a crisis cannot be adequately responded to without the action of Catholic husbands and fathers,” he said.
The Knights’ membership process already changed in recent years when the order began to allow online membership. Online members had the right to attend any council business meeting and could purchase Knights of Columbus insurance, but they lacked the ordinary rights of council members until they officially enrolled in a council and underwent a first degree ceremony.
The 2019 Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus adopted a resolution to consider combining the first three degrees and removing the condition of secrecy.
Anderson said he directed a review of the ceremonials “with an eye toward staying true to our roots while at the same time presenting our principles of charity, unity and fraternity in a more clear and convincing way.” The process involved consultation with supreme directors, state officers, and longtime members experienced in ceremonials.
“The result is a new ceremony that stays true to our traditions while addressing the needs of our times,” he said.
Anderson placed the order’s longtime rituals in the context of the 19th century, when the Knights of Columbus competed with many other fraternal societies. Men of the time “wanted secrecy and the sense of progression that came with multiple degrees,” he said.
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These fraternal ceremonies presented a “journey through knighthood” to encourage greater participation in the order and to inspire men to seek leadership roles in local councils. Anderson said these ceremonies worked well for such purposes in the past, but do not work today. He professed a “special fondness” for the old ceremonies, but he noted that Fr. McGivney himself needed to make changes in the 1880s to help the order grow.
Citing Pope Benedict XVI’s description of McGivney as representing “the secret of the impressive growth” of the Catholic Church in America, Anderson said McGivney is still an inspiring example for millions and the Knights of Columbus continue to pray for his canonization.
“For Father McGivney, the path of charity, unity and fraternity was to be an enduring path of Christian discipleship,” said Anderson, who said this was entrusted to laymen under the guidance of clergy “to direct and carry out their own part in the mission of the Church.”
Anderson prayed that McGivney’s intercession “guide, sustain and enable us to fulfill our vocation as leaders of this great Order for the welfare of our brother Knights and the renewal of our Church.”
The work of the Knights of Columbus combines community service, social activities, charitable fundraising, and support for the Catholic Church. In 2018 it reported giving over $185 million in donations and working 76.7 million volunteer hours. Its major projects now include support for vocations to the priesthood, support for the Special Olympics, support for persecuted Christians in the Middle East, and disaster relief.
The order is also an insurance company, with about 1,200 agents who sell policies to its members. The insurance company helps fund charitable initiatives and other Catholic causes.