In recent weeks there has been confusion and controversy surrounding the events that transpired following the Knights of Columbus formal. On March 16, Andrew Keyes, who was the Grand Knight of the Council at the time, brought his boyfriend to the organization’s formal, which is held on campus in a member’s apartment. Shortly after, Keyes was asked to resign from his position as Grand Knight by Father Benedict Guevin, O.S.B.
In reflecting on the night of formal itself, Keyes explains that he was under the impression that everything went well. He was very clear that prior to the formal and in the first few days after, he had not been given any reason to believe bringing a male date would be a problem. This changed, however, when Keyes received a text the following Wednesday from Knights member Andrew Cilento which read, “1) you’re off serving 2) resign now as Grand Knight or I’m going to motion to have you removed.” A later text read, “you’re literally causing massive public scandal to the Knights and the Church.”
When asked to comment on these messages, Cilento admitted that he should have approached Keyes in person and attested to the difficulty of holding the position as Grand Knight. Cilento believes, “It was inappropriate for Mr. Keyes to hold a leadership position for a Catholic organization while being in a relationship that is contrary to the teachings of Holy Mother Church.” Despite fundamentally disagreeing with Keyes, Cilento issued a written statement saying, “I have always had great respect for Mr. Keyes, and I will continue to do so, regardless of this incident.”
In the same week as Keyes’ interaction with Cilento, Father Benedict, whom Keyes describes as a friend, contacted Keyes and requested a meeting off campus. At the end of what Fr. Benedict describes as a “lovely lunch,” he asked for Keyes’ resignation from his position as Grand Knight. Keyes’ actions led Fr. Benedict to believe his “hands were tied.” This decision came after multiple conversations with the Supreme Council.
Denying allegations of discrimination, Fr. Benedict explains that he was forced to ask for Keyes’ resignation due to the public nature of his acts. Because Keyes held a public position in a distinctly Catholic organization, he was expected to uphold Catholic values in his public life.
While many have said that this is a case of discrimination based on Keyes’ sexuality, Fr. Benedict believes that this is not the case, and “to throw around the word discrimination is unwise and untrue.” Fr. Benedict, as chaplain of the Council, is responsible for holding members to Catholic teaching. Because the Grand Knight is in an exemplary position, it is especially important that he be held to the standards of Catholic teachings. When Keyes brought a male date to the formal, he was contradicting Catholic teaching, according to Fr. Benedict. The act caused much anger and confusion within the group’s membership, especially among the younger members of the Knights.
Fr. Benedict reports that he received word that younger members were confused about how Keyes’ relationship related to the teachings of the church, and this contributed to Fr. Benedict’s request for Keyes’ resignation. Fr. Benedict was clear that he and older members of the Knights “know Mr. Keyes, we know what he’s like, we know what his reputation is.” However, younger members of the Council were confused because of Keyes’ failure to uphold the values of the Catholic Church while being in a public position of authority. Fr. Benedict explained this further. “When the Grand Knight comes in with his boyfriend you can imagine people saying, ‘What the fuck is that all about?’”
Fr. Benedict, as chaplain, had an obligation to respond to this confusion and bring clarity to the younger members of the Knights. This anger and confusion, along with urging from the Supreme Council, ultimately led to his request for Keyes’ resignation. Both Keyes and Fr. Benedict acknowledge that Keyes understood this reasoning and gracefully resigned.
Shortly after Keyes’ resignation, during Easter break, Fr. Benedict received word that many Knights were upset with the decision, claiming that Keyes was forced to resign and that this was an act of bigotry. Fr. Benedict cleared up these accusations by saying that Keyes was not forced to resign and that this is not an act of bigotry. When asked, however, what would have transpired if Keyes had not gracefully resigned, Fr. Benedict did not feel comfortable entering the realm of speculation, explaining that the Supreme Council had suggested something he was “not comfortable with.” Impeachment by a vote of the fellow knights, however, is not a specified procedure laid forth in their bylaws.
Many have claimed Keyes’ removal as Grand Knight is an attempt to avoid losing funding from the Supreme Council. The Financial Secretary of the Knights, Father Stephen Lawson, O.S.B., would like to make clear that, “The Saint Anselm College Knights of Columbus is entirely self-funded… The notion that the Supreme Council (the national Knights organization) put financial pressure on the Saint Anselm Council is totally baseless and false because we do not receive money from our national organization.” Fr. Benedict echoes Fr. Stephen’s comments, explaining that if there is an exchange of funds, it is from the campus Council to the Supreme, not the other way around. The Knights also receive no funding from the College.
Thus, the reasoning for Keyes’ resignation is again brought back to the public display of his sexuality. Fr. Benedict maintains that “If Mr. Keyes were gay and private about it and kept his private life private, there would be no issue, but that’s not what Mr. Keyes chose to do.”
Amid questions about involvement from the ACLU, Fr. Benedict denies that he has had any contact with the ACLU. He further states that there is no reason for their involvement because this is not a case of discrimination.
Keyes, however, has received mixed reactions from members of the Knights. He expressed that the fact that he brought a male date, his boyfriend, to the Knights formal was “disgusting to a member or two.” Others have been supportive of Keyes, and Keyes says some knights have resigned in solidarity with him after the incident. Some members of the Knights have even gone as far as to suggest the Council should be dissolved, according to Keyes.
As the Catholic Church is forced to reconcile its teachings with the realities of the 21st century, questions about the Church’s beliefs and human sexuality continue to surface. The Saint Anselm community is especially susceptible to these debates because of its dual role as a monastery and place for scholarship. Keyes himself characterized the Catholicism at Saint Anselm as “traditionalist,” while reiterating Pope Francis’ question, “Who am I to judge?” It seems clear that, like the Church, Saint Anselm will be wrestling with these issues for years to come.