The Age - Victoria, Australia
Victoria's Freemasons split as leader's dirty laundry is aired
February 12, 2014
Ben Schneiders and Tom Arup
Don Reynolds Photo: Supplied
Current grand master Bob Jones. Photo: Supplied
Illustration: Ron Tandberg
No, this is not a story about Canberra politics. It is the drama afflicting the Freemasons in Victoria, an organisation bound in ancient rituals, symbols and moral codes, and whose dirty undergarments are rarely aired in public.
Leaked letters, seen by Fairfax Media, detail indignation among some senior members at the election of a new deputy grand master of Freemasonry, Don Reynolds. Mr Reynolds, they allege, has broken one of his solemn moral obligations
It is understood previous grand masters such as Vaughan Werner, a former deputy commissioner of police, met recently to discuss the crisis. Mr Werner declined to comment saying he would keep his views and concerns ''private''.
Opponents of Mr Reynolds want him to quit ahead of his ''grand installation'' at a ceremony at the Dallas Brooks Centre on March 20.
At that event Mr Reynolds is to be ''installed'' along with Hillel Benedykt, who will be the new grand master of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria. In two years, as is the custom, Mr Reynolds would then ascend to be grand master of Victoria's 11,700 Freemasons.
Mr Reynolds is not accused of any criminal or civil offence, even the most minor. Rather the uproar is about historical rumours of consensual sex between adults.
But the Freemason code holds as important respect for another Mason's family. Casual sex with a female relative of another Freemason is frowned upon.
One letter criticising Mr Reynolds' appointment from Freemason Rex Thorburn says: ''I am reminded of the undertaking to '… most strictly respect the chastity …' of certain persons in the third degree obligation,'' he wrote. ''Also in the wording of the Tyler's Toast, 'We prize each brother fair and dark who bears no moral stain'.''
A Freemason's third obligation is one of his most important vows. As grand secretary Peter Henshall explains, the obligations involve three ceremonies to mark the evolution of a man's life, with the third degree the last stage and ''reflecting upon his life well lived''.
Current grand master Bob Jones said Mr Reynolds was a good man and the letters of support had far outweighed the opposition to his election.
He quoted one letter. ''Both in his personal life and his Masonic one Right Honourable Reynolds has always comported himself with honesty, dignity, integrity and above all respect for others.'' As Mr Jones said, ''I couldn't add anything more to that.''
On Monday, Mr Jones wrote to Freemasons defending Mr Reynolds and said he had been elected with a clear majority over two other candidates and his opponents had had many months to prove their allegations. He noted a formal complaint had been lodged and would be dealt with in the ''strict conformity with the Book of Constitutions''.
To his mind, he wrote, the behaviour of Mr Reynolds' opponents in expressing their concerns ''in a very public and confronting way'' had been ''unacceptable''. He had taken advice as to whether their actions represented ''un-Masonic conduct''.
''The fact that this matter is now in the public arena gives me deep concern, not only for the behaviour of some of our Brethren, but also the potential for damaging the reputation not only in Victoria but around the world,'' Mr Jones wrote.
With origins some trace back to the Middle Ages - modern-day Freemasonry began in the early 1700s in the UK - the all-male order arrived in Australia soon after the First Fleet. It has counted among its number 10 conservative Australian prime ministers including Sir Robert Menzies. Cricketer Sir Donald Bradman was also a member, as was entertainer Graham Kennedy.
Yet now, in Victoria at least, it is a tenth the size of its post-World War II peak of more than 100,000 members.
As a Freemason, members must express a belief in a supreme being, though that can be drawn from any faith or religion. Universal charity to community is a core principle.
At lodge dinners members wear dinner suits, white gloves and stonemason aprons so that all are dressed the same no matter what walk of life they are from. They carry out ceremonies as enactments of ancient stories that teach moral lessons. And they promise not to reveal the traditional methods of recognition of a freemason, namely passwords and signs.
One long-term Freemason, who asked not to be named, described Mr Reynolds as a ‘‘good ritualist’’ and ‘‘good ceremonialist who looks authoritative’’. But, he said, it was outrageous for him to be in the role due to the ‘‘moral concerns’’.
‘‘Why the hell are we putting up a guy who lost his moral compass?’’
While social attitudes have become more liberal in recent decades, the freemasons have stuck to a strict personal code. For them, moral transgressions that break this are not easily cast aside.
Ray Kelly – who has resigned from the position of Worshipful Master, Lodge of Transition No.0 due to Mr Reynolds’ election – wrote in another letter: ‘‘I was raised by my parents to live by a set of principles, among them being to respect the sanctity of women and marriage.’’
‘‘And I was delighted when I discovered Freemasonry supported and enforced those principles, especially in the Obligations which form an integral part of our Order.’’
Mr Henshall, as grand secretary, said he would conduct an investigation into the claims which he hoped to finish ''as quick as possible''. He said Mr Reynolds was not available to comment due to the inquiry.
‘‘We need to satisfy ourselves that the complaints that are being made have some foundation, and if they do then we’ll take the appropriate action. If they don’t we’ll need to counsel the complainants and then move on,’’ he said.
‘‘I can say by way of example that the allegations that are being brought here aren’t heading at any criminal activity, that the civil or criminal law would have any concern about.’’
He was not concerned by the recent meeting of past grand masters to discuss the issue.
‘‘Any group of members are free to meet to discuss their respective opinions, we’ve got to ensure that the right official process is conducted to verify any claims and that becomes how the issue is determined.’’
Mr Jones, who will end his two-year term as grand master next month, said Freemasonry was attracting new adherents in their mid–30s.
‘‘[They are] not looking for religion, they’re looking for a better way of life,’’ he said. ‘‘Those old standards of living and being a good neighbour and being a good person.’’