(CNSNews.com) – House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) joined nearly two dozen other prominent American Catholics on Wednesday in calling for President Barack Obama to fire a White House adviser who has attacked the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI.
Boehner is the most high-profile public official so far to speak out against the appointment of Harry Knox to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Knox is director of the Faith and Religion Program at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a homosexual rights organization. Among other things, Knox has accused the pope of “hurting people in the name of Jesus” of "morally reprehensible" behavior and of "blatant falsehoods." He has accused the Catholic Church of "insulting" Jesus.
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) also signed the letter, which was released Wednesday.
In recent weeks, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has criticized Knox for his attacks on the Catholic Church, and Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind) has called on the president to remove Knox from his advisory council.
Obama, who named Knox to the council on April 6, said that his faith-based program would “bring everyone together from both the secular and the faith-based communities.”
However, a May 13 letter from lay Catholic leaders said Knox does not fit that criteria, citing numerous examples of harsh comments Knox has made about the church, the pope, the bishops, and the Knights of Columbus.
“Harry Knox is a hate-filled antithesis of this noble objective” of the advisory council, the letter says. “Knox is a virulent anti-Catholic bigot, and has made numerous vile and dishonest attacks against the Church and the Holy Father. He has no business on any council having to do with faith or religion.”
The letter gives President Obama the benefit of the doubt on whether he has thus far been aware of Knox’s attacks on the pope and the church. However, the letter suggests that the president must act on Knox now that he has been made aware of his adviser's attacks on the Roman Catholic faith.
“As Catholics, we call on you to remove Mr. Knox from his position and to formally disassociate yourself from his militant anti-Catholicism. Failure to do so will result in the tainting of your Faith-Based Council--and indeed, your entire administration--as anti-Catholic.”
“As a leading Catholic lawmaker, Rep. Boehner felt it was important to weigh in, in condemning the abusive rhetoric this appointee has used towards the church and the pope,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told CNSNews.com.
The letter calling Obama’s attention to Knox's anti-Catholic statements comes just days before Obama is set to give the commencement speech and receive an honorary doctorate in law from the University of Notre Dame, one of the most well-known and most prestigious Catholic universities in America. The impending speech and honorary degree have sparked immense controversy.
The White House did not respond to written questions about Knox from CNSNews.com yesterday. Nor did the White House respond to earlier requests from CNSNews.com to comment about a statement by Knox that the pope was a "discredited leader."
Neither Knox nor the Human Rights Campaign responded to inquiries from CNSNews.com on Wednesday.
Knox, however, did speak with Newsmax on Wednesday. Concerning the letter from Boehner and other Catholics, Knox said: “It’s clearly not the truth.”
"I love the Catholic Church and love my Catholic sisters and brothers very much,” Knox said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Roman Catholic Church and for all the good that it does. I do think that we have a real disagreement about the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, both in the role of the church and in the role of public service."
L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center, the parent organization of CNSNews.com, was one of the signers of the letter. Concerning Knox’s comment about loving the Catholic Church, Bozell said: “If Harry Knox truly loved the Catholic Church, the first thing he’d do is formally and publicly apologize to the Holy Father for his anti-Catholic bigotry.”
In addition to Boehner, McCotter, and Bozell, the letter was signed by Judie Brown, president of the American Life League; Larry Cirignano, founder of CatholicVote.org; Eileen Cubanski, executive director of the National Association of Private Catholic and Independent Schools; Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; Chuck Donovan, executive director of the Family Research Council; Deacon Keith A. Fournier, editor-in-chief of Catholic Online and founder of Common Good; Deal W. Hudson, director of InsideCatholic.com; Phillip F. Lawler, editor of Catholic World News; Leonard Leo, president of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast; Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for the Family Research Council; Kate O’Beirne, president of the National Review Institute; Thomas Peters of the American Papist Blog; Al Regnery, publisher of The American Spectator; Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society; Charles Rice, professor emeritus at Notre Dame Law School; Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute; Phyllis Schlafly, president of Eagle Forum; Fr. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute and Richard Viguerie, president of American Target Advertising.
“I don’t care about people who criticize the Catholic Church on public policy issues, let them have at it,” Donohue said. “But Knox is not content to disagree. He must demonize. He says the pope is not simply wrong about condoms, he implies he is lying.”
On March 17, in a statement published on the HRC Web site, Knox wrote: “The Pope’s statement that condoms don’t help control the spread of HIV, but rather condoms increase infection rates, is hurting people in the name of Jesus. … On a continent where millions of people are infected with HIV, it is morally reprehensible to spread such blatant falsehoods.
“The Pope’s rejection of scientifically proven prevention methods is forcing Catholics in Africa to choose between their faith and the health of their entire community. Jesus was about helping the marginalized and downtrodden, not harming them further,” Knox wrote. (See Previous Story)
On March 19, the San Francisco Bay Area Reporter quoted Knox as saying, “The Knights of Columbus do a great deal of good in the name of Jesus Christ, but in this particular case [Proposition 8], they were foot soldiers of a discredited army of oppression.”
Proposition 8 was a California ballot initiative--which passed in November--that amended the state constitution there to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.
The Bay Area Reporter further reported that Knox said the Knights of Columbus “followed discredited leaders,” including bishops and Pope Benedict XVI. ‘A pope who literally today said condoms don’t help in control of AIDS.’”
Knox made several other comments in opposition to the pope and the church.
In 2007, when a Catholic bishop in Wyoming decided that a lesbian couple advocating same-sex marriage should not receive communion, Knox accused the Catholic Church of "insulting" Jesus.
"In this holy Lenten season, it is immoral and insulting to Jesus to use the body and blood of Christ the reconciler as a weapon to silence free speech and demean the love of a committed, legally married couple,” Knox said in a written statement posted on the Human Rights Campaign Web site. Knox also accused the church of an "act of spiritual and emotional violence" against the lesbian couple.
When the Catholic Church refused in December to support a United Nations resolution that would have equated all sexual orientations--and, in the view of the church, created an instrument to pressure nations into legalize same-sex marriage--Knox accused the church of indicating that violence against homosexuals was acceptable.
“By refusing to sign a basic statement opposing inhumane treatment of LGBT people, the Vatican is sending a message that violence and human rights abuses against LGBT people are acceptable," said Knox in a document posted on the Human Rights Campaign Web site. He declared the church's position on this UN resolution an "immoral stance in the name of religion.”
On April 6, the day Knox was named to the council, he told CNSNews.com: “The Pope needs to start telling the truth about condom use. We are eager to help him do that. Until he is willing to do that and able, he’s doing a great deal more harm than good--not just in Africa but around the world. It is endangering people’s lives.”
Donovan said he would expect similar outrage if a presidential appointee insulted another religion.
“We would be similarly concerned if there was a Christian or Catholic member of the council who publicly said a Synagogue had no right to have a bar mitzvah for a particular young person,” Donovan said. “It is simply inappropriate and it indicates that this gentleman, for whatever reason, is not aware of boundaries.”
Bozell said Knox’s appointment would essentially mean he is speaking for the federal government.
“We are working on the presumption that the president didn’t know about this man--as improbable as it may be in the vetting process that none of these statements, that are so easy to come by, were available to those who would vet,” Bozell said.
"They are now public comments and they are part of the public record. There is no longer any excuse on the part of the president not to act on this,” Bozell added.
Regnery said the Knox appointment goes against what Obama promised in forming the faith-based office.
"Certainly, having someone like Harry Knox on that committee does not do anything to bring people together,” Regnery said.