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Behind the mask of Ireland's masons; TV REVEALS SECRET WORLD.

Byline: JIM GALLAGHER

A SHOCKING documentary is going to lift the lid on Ireland's 30,000 freemasons.

For the first time ever the secret organisation has allowed TV cameras to film some of its meetings and rituals.

The public will be stunned to know there are so many members of the controversial group living among them.

And despite huge opposition to freemasonry from the established Churches, some members are actually PRIESTS in the Church of Ireland.

For the first time ever these members talk about why they joined one of the most secret organizations in the world.

Over the years freemasons have been accused of everything from murder to corruption.

They have been linked by some to the assassination of JFK, faking the moon landing and even involvement in the death of Princess Diana.

However outlandish the conspiracy theories, the freemasons have done themselves no favours with the secrecy surrounding many of the rituals of the Masonic order.

Most people know about their "funny handshakes" but they will be horrified to see some of the blood-curdling initiation ceremonies re-enacted in the RTE documentary Would You Believe - Men in Aprons.

Filming of the real ceremonies - and other freemason activities - was banned. The TV cameras were given only limited access to film the Grand Lodge of Ireland at work.

Eric Waller, the Worshipful Grand Master of the Order, is one of the driving forces behind this recent move to open up the freemasons to the public eye.

But cynics claim they are being forced to go public because of falling membership and the need to recruit new members.

A retired businessman, Mr Waller has worked his way up to the second highest level in the hierarchy.

He said people were often shocked to discover he was a member.

Despite the importance the Freemasons place on charitable works - both for masonic as well as "non-masonic" charities - the organisation is reviled by many Churches.

They oppose the fact that freemasons use Bible texts mixed with numerology and borrowings from ancient pagan religious traditions in their elaborate rituals.

The Vatican has consistently condemned freemasonry and threatened Roman Catholic members with excommunication.

The Anglican Church as well as the Presbyterians have viewed membership as inconsistent with Christianity. Some critics of Freemasonry view it as a quasi-religion.

But Mr Waller insisted: "I am well aware of this criticism which has no basis in fact.

"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 but brings people together. We are accused of being anti-Christian - we are not anti-anything.

"We have Jewish members, Muslim members and Hindu members throughout the world. We are not an alternate religion."

The Rev Brian Snow, Right Worshipful Past Grand Chaplain and a Church of Ireland priest, said: "I don't feel it is in any way incompatible and that's all I can say.

"I am a practising Christian and I am obviously a priest of the Church of Ireland.

"It is a matter of personal choice for those who do take that position and say it is incompatible.

"Of course they must discover why it is incompatible and the problem that arises there is that you can't discover that until you become a freemason."

Another longtime mason is former newscaster Vere Wynne Jones, who now works as a PR consultant. He tells of how helpful the masons were when he struggled to beat cancer.

n Would You Believe - Men in Aprons. RTE One, Thursday 10.15pm.

CAPTION(S):

HIS MASTER'S VOICE: Eric Waller; MEMBER: Vere Wynne Jones
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Feb 15, 2004
Words:602
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