Sunday 15th February 2004
Flagging Freemasons secret society admits RTE cameras in desperate bid to recruit
THE secretive society the Freemasons are on a major recruitment drive in Ireland in a bid to halt falling numbers. A new documentary that lifts the lid on the exclusive men-only club claims that the society is trying to boost members by attracting young men. Men In Aprons which will be screened on Thursday goes behind the doors of the Grand Lodge of Ireland where top businessmen conduct meetings and secret rituals dressed in capes and hoods. But Paul Malcomson, author and critic of the group, says the RTE cameras were only allowed in because the Freemasons are desperate for new members to save the flagging secret society. “The major reason that it is suffering is that it has been exposed like never before in the past 15 or 20 years,” he said. “Because of that most young males wouldn’t be liable to join because they are not going to subject themselves to initiations that they now know and see ashumiliating. “I think the masons are in great trouble at the moment and that is the reason that they are opening up a bit.”
In the Would You Believe special former RTE newsreader Vere Wynne Jones defends the secret society saying the club helped him through his battle with cancer. The well-known pundit says he is a Master Mason in the third level where the majority of practical charity work is done. He dismisses claims that Freemasons aim to help one another out in business, saying it is no different to a golf club.
“I think anyone who joins any club believes that if they make friends and acquaintances that they will assist them. Every club is designed for that. The masonic order is no different. But by its very nature it does not encourage this.
“Obviously you will check out if you know someone who can get a job you need done. But we are not in the business of sitting around trying to get other brethren jobs and opportunities.
“If all other factors are equal, the fact that we know you may encourage us to use your services. But there is no doubt whatsoever that we are not involved in a closed-shop type organisation.
“I am at the third level and that is where I believe I can make my best contribution. Others move upwards because of curiosity or an enhanced sense of belonging.”
During the programme, film crews are allowed limited access to film a meeting at the Grand Lodge but they are asked to leave after the opening ceremony. The society claims to have 30,000 members across Ireland but Right Worshipful Grand Master Eric Waller admits that numbers are falling. But he defends the society against criticisms from all the major churches, including the Catholic church, which is under orders from the Vatican to excommunicate members.
“Freemasons are law-abiding citizens in good standing. There is only one question about religion and that is whether you believe in a supreme being.
“Freemasonry is not divisive; it brings people together. We are accused of being anti-Christian – we are not anti-anything. These accusations are levelled by people who believe we should throw our lot in with them which we refuse to do – we have Jewish members, Muslim members and Hindu members throughout the world. We are not an alternate religion,” said Mr Waller. And he says that stories of blood-curdling oaths and frightening ceremonies are often exaggerated.
“We are not a secret society. We are a society with secrets. We rose out of the medieval guilds.
“We swear an oath of obligation that we will keep those things entrusted to us.
“Membership is open to anybody once they believe in a supreme being. We don’t claim to have a monopoly on good morals and integrity. It is just that we reinforce it and emphasis it to our members.”
Fellow member Rev Brian Snow, Right Worshipful Past Grand Chaplain admits the oaths can at times be bad: “We swear an oath of obligation that we’ll keep inviolable those things that are entrusted to us . . . these oaths can be a bit horrendous at times.”
But Malcomson believes that the Freemasons are anti-Christian and in dire need of new members. “I believe they are on the ropes in a serious way and are trying to get new members to join.”