These ceremonials of the order were kept under a pledge of secrecy limited to the membership.
The new ceremony will now combine all three degrees and, in another major change, will be opened to the public. Anderson said the exemplification may be conducted in a council’s meeting chamber or in a church, “with families and friends seated in the pews.”
“They will see firsthand the organization that their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and friends are joining — the principles and values they are committing to and why it matters,” Anderson said in remarks he originally delivered Nov. 23 to the Knights of Columbus midyear organizational meeting of state deputies in Orlando, Florida.
“This historic new ceremonial is rooted in our past and tailored to our present. It will inspire more men to join us,” Anderson said. “Most of all, it is essential to the sustainability of the Knights of Columbus, as it will empower us to advance our mission and grow in the years ahead. It is essential to our ability to meet the crisis we now face.”
Anderson’s remarks acknowledged that more than 26 million Catholics have left the faith in the United States and millions more in Canada. Baptisms have fallen by 40%, sacramental marriages have fallen by more than 66% and only just over 20% of Catholics attend Mass regularly. Four in ten baptized Catholics no longer identify as Catholic, and for the first time self-identified Catholics no longer make up a majority of Hispanics, according to a 2019 survey.
“This is a crisis for our Church. This is a crisis for our Catholic families,” Anderson said, adding “this is a crisis for our order.”
“You know as well as I do that we are finding it harder to recruit men — especially younger men,” he told the Knights’ state deputies. “And while many jurisdictions are still adding members and inspiring more good works, in other jurisdictions this is no longer the case.”
Anderson cited the difficulties of bringing young men, especially young fathers, into the order. Many said they found it difficult to attend multiple ceremonies.
“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.”
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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.