"Reverting schisms in Europe"by Bro. Michael KRAUS, MW Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Austria
IX'h World Conference of Masonic Grand Lodges 7-9 May 2008, Washington, DC
"Reverting schisms in Europe"
Bro. Michael KRAUS,
MW Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Austria
MW Grand Masters, dear Brethren-in-office, MW, RW, VW Brethren, and Brethren all:
This World Conference of Masonic Grand Lodges rightly put the issue of schisms on its agenda. And this session is rightly termed "Preventing schisms". Prevention is always better and cheaper - in our case less tedious and less emotional - than having to address and, if possible, to revert schisms.
But reality often is different to theory and wishes. Schisms within Masonry are, unfortunately, one of such realities: a reality that English and world Masonry has been feeing since its inception. While early English schisms were resolved, European Masonry has been challenged by a major Masonic schism originating in France, since the end of the 19* century. This schism of an ideological character is carrying ramifications into many countries of today's world and does not look as it could be solved easily or quickly.
Beyond this major schism OB basic concepts, there are others schisms in many countries, where more than one jurisdiction is claiming regularity: a situation which originated in various reasons including -1 have to say, and regrettably - personal views, ambitions and in particular unconciliatory attitudes by individual players.
In addition to these schisms of and between the jurisdictions governing the so-called "blue" or St. John's degrees, there are also schisms in relation to and amongst, systems of further Masonic learning, also often referred to as "higher" or "high degrees", or "appendant degrees". As much has been said and written on this issue, I will not dwell on it.
There is also the gender schism in regular Masonry. Our common concept in this respect is little understood today by the general and interested public, in the 21st century, however, we cannot shy away or use words and concepts not understandable to the world around us including possible candidates and partners of our Brethren. We have to be able to explain in contemporary language and mind-sets, why we are convinced that women should not mix with men in our ritual path of progressive initiation.
Before addressing present schisms, however, we have to clarify i/schisms should be reverted. I sometimes get the impression that we learned to live with schisms and we got used to even live rather happily and unworriedly with this situation. I do not count myself amongst those who do not care about existing schisms.
Schisms are costly. They are consuming a lot of energy of Brethren which could be better used - used e.g. for achieving the goals of Masonry. Schisms, through Internet sites and other media, are today broadly reflected in the public domain. Schisms can mislead candidates and often direct them to the "wrong addresses". And they are presenting a bad picture of Masonry to the public. But, most important of all, schisms unnecessarily divide and undermine the joint collective identity of Brethren.
I am submitting my analysis on schisms in European countries at the cod of the 6* year of my tenure which has been marked by an institutional and personal interest and action in European Masonry. 1 have been focusing, of course, on countries of Austria's neighbourhood of Central Europe, Eastern Central Europe and South-Eastem Europe. In these countries, the Grand Lodge of Austria helped setting up new lodges and new jurisdictions and supported action in reverting schisms.
The number of regular jurisdictions in Europe has been growing fast for more than 15 years. Today, there is practically at least one Craft jurisdiction in each of the European countries in place - unfortunately in many instances more than one. Looking at today's reality and practice in Europe, we cannot but regret that the schisms have been growing in number during the last decades and years. Not only were existing schisms not overcome, but a number of new ones added - sometimes because of personal views and ambitions, and sometimes also upon wrong and undue influence from abroad and from other degree systems.
Let me be clear, here, on a couple of cases which happened only recently: It is und must remain unacceptable if a Grand Master of a jurisdiction is holding or running for, - high -political office. Nor can it be condoned if a politician is publicly referring to his membership to the Craft as a means for political campaigning or relate! party politics issues, This does not mean, however, that politicians cannot be Brethren.
Similarly unacceptable is bringing national or bilateral concerns or problems of European jurisdictions to bodies outside of Europe, Inter-jurisdictional and bilateral issues are to be solved first and foremost in a brotherly spirit between the jurisdictions concerned. I will revert to this issue in more detail later. Jurisdictions writing - often misinformed - accusatory letters in regard to another, often neighbourly jurisdiction, to outside bodies has similarly to be strongly refuted - as has such outside body taking quasi-binding decisions on such issues and conflict-solving methods.
Solving situations of competing jurisdictions in one country - in particular when more than one jurisdiction is following the rubs of regularity - is a very complicated affair. We cannot expect so-called irregulars to easily and without previous arrangements amongst both parties, come or come back to our structures. We cannot expect, as equally daily observed in a number of European countries, that two regularly working jurisdictions easily merge into a single one. Giving up traditions, names, lodge charters, petty concepts and, last but not least, Grand Lodge offices is not easy to anybody, including in particular Brethren.
To overcome and revert schisms in Masonry needs creative thinking and courage • as well as a lot of efforts and time. Reverting schisms first and foremost needs flexibility - on all sides, including and in particular on the side of the "haves", i.e. the jurisdiction which is enjoying broad recognition by regular Masonry. Reverting schisms needs information and knowledge of the specific country and situation including its main actors. Transposing or imposing specific concepts cherished by some outside jurisdiction does not help. Starting the path to revert schisms needs the implementation of our basic Masonic concept: tolerance. All sides have to show tolerance, much more tolerance, when talking to other sides of the same Masonic coin in one country. Only by first accepting the other as Brother and trying to understand him that overcoming schisms can become possible.
First of all, there has to be rates for orientation. Some of these rules can not be ignored nor be open to negotiation, when it comes to regular Masonry. Regularity for us is based upon commonly accepted principles, i.e. the 'Basic principles for Grand Lodge recognition' of the UGLE of 4 September 1929. They were adopted and are being followed in this or a very similar wording by regular jurisdictions. They are not negotiable even when trying to overcome schisms. The term "basic", however, suggests that there may be additional elements of detail not specified by the 'Bask Principles' themselves. And, like with any rules, there is room for interpretation, which can be developed individually, but preferably in a collective, co-operative way.
During the discussions in the course of the last years on the most blatant and shocking cases of schisms in regular Masonry in Europe, voices were raised that such cases could only be solved amongst concerned jurisdictions of a region together and in a co-operative thinking and format Despite a number of individual actions, no concerned or outside single jurisdiction had demonstrated the will or ability to solve soch problems on its own. The developments as observed even went from bad to worse: Schisms in one country led to movements of grouping jurisdictions in Europe - resulting in what some call different groups of regular jurisdictions in Europe following opposite policies of recognition in respect to Masonic regularity of individual countries' situations. This feet should be unacceptable to those of us concerned with the good of Masonry, our - regular - Masonry.
Inter-jurisdictiortal and bilateral issues are to be solved first and foremost in a brotherly spirit between the jurisdictions concerned.
• In case that this way of addressing problems does not succeed, mediation, i.e. the talking and advice to both parties by a person or institution specifically requested by both parties,may be useful. Mediation itself, however, does not solve the problem; this to achieve is up to the parties concerned. And meditation cannot be imposed and should be conducted, as long as possible, in a quiet way.
• Otherwise it would be arbitration - and this instrument is not generally used in inter-jurisdiction issues - but could be, if mutually agreed.
• The third concept of cortfl ict-solution, a q uasi-j udicial decision by, e.g., a court of honour, is not available in Masonry on a supranational level - and is not requested.
Last but not least in this context we should be honest to acknowledge that even mediation, as we have witnessed in respect to Russia, has its limits as to effective final solutions.
Can schism be reverted, can it be done? Yes, there are instances where it has been done. Recent developments in Bulgaria, Romania and Austria at small and medium size but foremost in the Czech Republic at large scale are lessons to be learnt front - and to be seen as hopes for further efforts. We in Europe are also very glad and encouraged to have - finally -watched progressive reversions of schisms in the United States of America as regards Prince Hall Masonry.
In Europe, only a few weeks ago, the universally recognised Grand Lodge of the Czech Republic ended a process of many years of finding a way to regularise members of the Grand Orient of the Czech Republic while the latter decided to disband its lodges and jurisdiction. This was in particular possible through and by tiie two top representatives of the two jurisdictions who knew each other well and trusted each other. The Grand Lodge of the Czech Republic - through its brotherly approach towards unrecognised but regularly working Brethren - gained, and Masonry gained. Not only I carry the wish that such example may be followed in other countries, too.
We are still faced with situations in a number of European countries - not only in its Eastern regions -, where more than one jurisdiction consists of lodges which are working in regularity but does not unite with other such jurisdiction, and where foreign jurisdictions are refrained from recognising all of the regular jurisdictions.
In order to solve, to end such unhappy and unpleasant situations, we must have at our disposition, both concepts and organisational frameworks to support the start and continuation of conflict-solving processes, as the rivalling jurisdictions or their heads usually are not in a position to find solutions themselves.
As to concepts, \ propose to separate our judgements on regularity from the policy of recognition. The so-called "special meeting" of regular European jurisdictions held last November in London upon invitation of the UGLE already implemented this separation of concepts. The basic idea behind this separation of terms is the concept that while recognition is a sovereign decision of poficy by individuai jurisdictions, regularity is a fact which can be determined by objective criteria.
When working on concepts and in their implementation, we need to show flexibility and novel approaches. By tradition, foreign jurisdictions can recognise more than one jurisdiction per country only if both or all of them are in amity with each other. In order to solve protracted situations of more than one regular jurisdictions in one country, we may have to consider less dogmatic ways. Given the lack, i,e. Ae expressly supported lack of any supranational Masonic authority, we need other means of bringing rivalling regular jurisdictions in one and the same country to solve their situation - a situation which is detrimental to Masonry. We just cannot wait for centuries that situations may resolve themselves or be resolved by chance.
We also need frameworks for discussion, for developing ways to solve difficult situations and possibly for enforcing sueh solutions. Frameworks for problem-solution must by definition be flexible and exclude ritual meetings which are based upon recognition.
A decision on recognition - itself based upon sovereignty and policy - may well be a matter of information as well as of interpretation. A European body on information on regularity - not very different from the 'Commission on Information for Recognition' ofthe 'Conference of Grand Masters of Masons of North America' - could enquire upon and discuss, in a cooperative and transparent manner, issues of regularity - distinct from recognition issues.
Such a body which should be open for participation to any regular European jurisdiction, could not only gather and pool information and intelligence from well informed jurisdictions and knowledgeable Brethren, but also be of valuable support to jurisdictions which are not able themselves to judge foreign jurisdictions upon their regularity. The main difference of such European body to the North American body would be its competence on regularity only - leaving decisions of recognition aside -, and its inclusive and co-operative character, Le. its openness for participation to any regular European jurisdiction upon equal footing, A proposal to this end was made and generally supported at the Prague meeting of April 2007 of the 'European Masonic Forum'.
This 'European Masonic Foram' originated in the 'Sinaia Protocol Conference'which was set up in February 2000 in order to avoid and overcome schisms in Eastern Central and Eastern Europe. The original aims of the 'Sinaia Protocol Conference'were: following the precepts of regular Masonry, the new jurisdictions talking to each other before reciprocal recognition, aiming at reciprocal and outside recognition, and exchanging information and views amongst Grand Masters in an informal way.
The 'Sinaia Protocol Conference' ilself and its successor, the 'European Masonic Forum / EMF' can demonstrate a number of success stories. As this gathering was not conditioned upon reciprocal recognition by all participants - but by regularity -, it enabled early contacts and advice. It linked younger and older jurisdictions of Europe - and their top representatives - by dialogue and exchanges. It enabled fraternal contacts across borders in regions torn apart by historic animosities and even by recent civil war. ft also resulted, by reverting and preventing schisms, in a number of recognitions within and from across the region. And it provided an open, informal and flexible forum for co-operative discussions of topics of European Masonic interest Meetings included those on, e.g., The future of Masonry' and on Ά European Masonic identity?'.
From its inception, the 'European Masonic Forum' did neither include ritual meetings nor take decisions binding upon participating jurisdictions nor infringe in any way upon their sovereign matters, ft discusses, however, issues of European Masonic concern at Grand Lodges' top levels, in a structured, co-operative, topic-oriented and problem-solving manner. The EMF certainly does not carry political elements or intentions, but demonstrated the real need for more co-operation between European jurisdictions - including because of the reality and dangers of schisms.
During the last years and even some time before, we have developed good forms of co¬operation amongst European jurisdictions - some of which are regularly followed by representatives from outside Europe» in particular the GL of Washington, DC, and its MW Bro. Robert Heyat, the host of this World Conference of Masonic Grand Lodges, and its
Executive Secretary, RW Bro. Tom Jackson. The number of annual communications with international invitees, however, has much increased over the fast years, which makes it difficult for most of us to reply positively to all such invitations - and thus be present at venues for possible contacts for problem-solving.
What we would really need in Europe - with a certain degree of urgency - is general, structured and regular meetings where most GMs in question could attend and, beyond bilateral corridor and small talks, could jointly discuss issues of concern.
I would not have covered my topic without, at least as a footnote, mentioning the schisms which are based upon differences on one or more basic concepts of Grand Lodge recognition. Here, the question is not how to come to re-unification or unification within ritual frameworks, but if to talk to each other, what to talk about and at which level. There are different concepts in different countries. Ignoring or claiming ignorance of other, irregular Masonic jurisdictions is not the right way I would like to see universal Masonry presented to the interested public.
Concluding 1 propose three lines of action and concepts in order to much enhance our efforts to revert schisms in Masonry in Europe - and to prevent further ones.
First: To this end, firmly upon the basic principles of regularity, first of all, fraternal talks have to be initiated and supported, as well as, if necessary, advised and mediated, if so wished by the parties. Such talks must not be refused by any side. In case that mediation or arbitration is wished and agreed to, by both sides, helping hands from outside the country or countries of conflict should be made available. On the other side, if there are undue refusals from whatever side, outside pressure may be necessary to start and uphold such talks. We may have to discuss much more which form such brotherly ./im help for the good of Masonry could and should take.
In order to address and solve problems, we need agreed rules. Given the schisms of the 20lh century that are still plaguing the Masonry of the 21s1 century, and the different implementation in practice of the 'Basic principles for Grand Lodge recognition', we may have to resort to a possibly more detailed interpretation of them» while keeping them not negotiable. If such contemporary and more advanced interpretation does not suffice, we may have to think of finding ways for jointly agreeing to some additional rules, in particular when it comes to regularity and territory.
Second: In respect to all problems, avenues for solutions should be undertaken based upon the principle of subsidiarity, i.e., first and foremost the parties to the problem have to try finding solutions; only if this way is unsuccessful, third parties may be involved. And only when intra-country efforts of probiem-soMng do not suffice, outside jurisdictions or prominent representatives thereof and in an ad fwrsonem-capac'fty may be invited to help. If mis does not lead to a solution, regional arrangements, if available, may come in to address problems in a cooperative way, for the good of Masonry in general.
And third: We need more and better co-operation between jurisdictions - in Europe. Regularity and schisms would and should be main themes of general, structured and regular meetings where most GMs in question could attend and, beyond bilateral corridor and small talks, jointly discuss issues of concern. The informal Luxemburg meetings, the former 'Sinaia Protocol Conference' on Masonry in Eastern Central, Sooth-Eastern and Eastern Europe, today's informal "European Masonic Forum' and the special London meeting of last November have shown possible formate. The "European Masonic Forum' can be adapted to the London participation and unite all efforts and wishes by various jurisdictions. It could also serve as framework for a European body on information on regularity.
MW GMs, Dear BreAren-m-office:
At the end of my tenure as GM of the Grand Lodge of Austria my main wish for European and thus world Masonry is to end - and prevent - schisms within jurisdictions, countries and regions. I am convinced that this can only be achieved by more and better understanding and co-operation between jurisdictions which has to include regular, flexible, and structured meetings of substance; by flexible approaches and innovative constructive thinking; by some kind of European structure on information on regularity; in a number of cases possibly by some kind of outside brotherly pressure; and all this firmly anchored in the basic principles for Grand Lodge regularity and recognition.
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