The Knights of Columbus are “very encouraged” by Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s request that U.S. presidential and vice-presidential candidates sign a civility pledge developed by the Catholic charitable fraternity.
“I think it’s great. I think that this is the kind of issue that religious leaders should be speaking out on,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told EWTN News on Aug. 28. “These are the kinds of religious values, like respect for each other, that our religious leaders ought to be furthering in society. We’re grateful for Cardinal Dolan’s leadership.”
Cardinal Dolan of New York, the president of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, in an Aug. 27 letter to President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, asked the political rivals to support the Knights of Columbus’ initiative called Civility in America.
“Civility in America is giving voice to the desire of Americans of all backgrounds and political parties for more civil discourse during this election season,” the cardinal said.
Support for the effort means that the upcoming campaign will “remain focused on the critical issues facing our nation and not on personal attacks,” he added.
The civility campaign includes a pledge for citizens who ask that candidates, the media and other public commentators “employ a more civil tone in public discourse on political and social issues” and focus on policies rather than “individual personalities.”
“We hope that candidates around the country will listen,” Anderson stated.
He said the campaign aims to encourage people to “raise their voice about the need for greater civility.” Many Americans are “fed up with the incivility of this campaign season.”
The Civility in America effort drew inspiration from a July 2012 Marist Institute poll that found 78% of American adults are mostly frustrated by the tone of political campaigns. Almost as many think that the tone has grown more negative than in past election years. Two-thirds of respondents believe that candidates are spending more time attacking opponents than talking about issues.
Anderson said he hopes the civility campaign will also raise awareness among members of the news media about many Americans’ beliefs that “things need to get better.”
“We hope it has an effect,” he said. “It’s not just a Catholic issue. I think it goes across denominational lines. I think every religious leader ought to step up and say, ‘Look, we can do a better job in our national public debate of these issues than to focus on personalities and name-calling.’”
He said evangelical pastor Rick Warren has taken a “very strong position” by canceling plans for his civil forum for the presidential nominees because of the uncivil political climate.
Anderson added that while Americans relish “verbal competitiveness in the marketplace of ideas,” a line is crossed when prominent politicians impugn their rivals’ motives and engage in name-calling.
“I think that Americans expect that if a candidate is running away from his record or hiding his record or misrepresenting his record, the other candidate will step up and say it’s not so. And that’s a good thing,” he observed.
“But we need to be able to do that in a civil and respectful way.”
He suggested Americans should emulate the customs of the U.S. Senate’s “civil, respectful debate,” despite senators’ wide variety of viewpoints.
Anderson also sees civility and accuracy as linked together. The news media “can do better” by focusing on whether candidates are giving accurate, quality answers to the questions put to them, he ventured.
“I think that would help the tone of national debate on these issues,” he said.
The Knights of Columbus is a global Catholic charitable fraternal organization with 1.2 million members in the U.S. alone.