Brother James J. Knights was raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason in Harmony Lodge No 429, Zelienople, PA, in 1999, currently handling public relations matters for the 26th Masonic District of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. In his previous life, he was an FBI Special Agent, whose assignments included violent crimes and fugitives, property crimes, civil rights investigations, and foreign counterintelligence. As such, he was a surveillance pilot, SWAT sniper, media representative, and worked in the FBI’s technical investigations program. Additionally, he has volunteered as a Civil Air Patrol pilot, squadron commander and public information officer. He is an emeritus member (fourteen years) of the Imperial Public Relations Committee of Shriners International and Shriners Hospitals for Children. A native of New England, he resides in southwestern Pennsylvania with his wife and honeybees.
During his career, Bro. Knights authored several published articles on law enforcement recruiting. Now in his retirement, he has authored an historical fiction trilogy called Benjamin’s Field (published April 2015), under the name J. J. Knights. The Benjamin’s Field trilogy follows a family over the course of sixty years through war, peace, triumph, tragedy, heartbreak, and final happiness from the viewpoint of its youngest member, Jeremy Kyner.
More a philosophical treatment of the human condition than a mere fictional story, the Benjamin’s Field trilogy is an interwoven tapestry of parables that explore various aspects of human existence, such as the role of family loyalty versus individual need, personal liberty and how it relates to society’s demands, religious prejudice, racism, intolerance, the role of charity, and the overwhelming need for humans to forgive one another. Part of the story seeks to explain the realities of Freemasonry to those who unwittingly view the fraternity through the lens of sensationalist authors.
Below is an excerpt from the first book of the trilogy, Benjamin’s Field: Rescue. A second excerpt will be posted next week. For those who would like to read more, the book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon. Reviews of the story are available there or at Goodreads.
The Freemason and The Priest
As Templeman knew would happen, the hammer fell on Pentecost Sunday, May 27, 1917, when the Vatican issued the Code of Canon Law. As expected, included was an injunction against Catholic men becoming Freemasons: Those who join a Masonic sect or other societies of the same sort, which plot against the Church or against legitimate civil authority, incur ipso facto an excommunication….
Although promulgated in May, 1917, the revised law, including Canon 2335, which dealt with Freemasonry and “societies of the same sort,” did not take effect until a year later, on Sunday, May 19, 1918.
So, on a Sunday morning in March 1918, as the armies and navies of the world were in the process of tearing each other apart, Father James Templeman stood in the pulpit of Saint Mary’s. He looked out over his congregation and prepared to fulfill his vow of obedience.
“Brothers and sisters, our Pontiff, His Holiness Benedict XV, has directed the issuance of a Code of Canon Law, the law which circumscribes the faithful. I believe there are aspects of the law that will have very direct effects on certain members of Saint Mary’s parish….”
“Damn it, Frank. I understand the problem. I just don’t understand what you want me to do about it. I’m not the pope. I’m not even Catholic. He’s not gonna listen to me.”
Benjamin and Frank Zieglar, now master of Harmonie Lodge No. 924, were walking the length of Benjamin’s field in the waning light of a cool early spring day. America had been at war for almost one year.
“It doesn’t matter so much that you’re not Catholic, Ben. Your wife was a member of Saint Mary’s and your son is a member. Father Templeman knows you. He saw you in Church with Delina every Sunday.”
“Brother Ben, our lodge is losing some good members because the pope said he’ll excommunicate them if they don’t leave on their own. It’s not fair and it’s not right. It’s not fair to those men and it’s not fair to the Fraternity. None of us has done anything to the Catholic Church. Damn! The country is at war. Isn’t there enough trouble in the world without something like this coming at us out of the blue?”
“Frank, I’ve got a son in this war. You don’t have to tell me. But since you brought it up, I have enough to worry about. There’s not a day goes by that I’m not scared I’ll find a Western Union man at my door with a telegram telling me Francis is dead. With every letter I get from him, I can see he’s changing. I’m afraid for him, Frank. I’m afraid he’ll be killed and if he isn’t, I’m afraid he’ll come back so different I won’t know him. Either way, I could lose my son. I just don’t care about Templeman, his pope or his church. If the Catholic guys in the lodge want to pick the pope over us, then so be it. I just can’t worry myself about it. D’ya understand?”
“Besides, Frank, what do you want from Templeman? He’s just a priest in a small church in a small town. He can’t do anything to change what’s happened. Even if he could, why would he? He works for the pope. You and I both have better things to do than go crawling to him.”
“How do you know until you ask him?” said Zieglar. “It’s been a few weeks since Templeman made the announcement. Maybe something’s come up we don’t know about – some way those guys can stay in the lodge. I don’t know, maybe if they light enough altar candles? At least get him to explain why this is being done. Catholic law? Jesus!”
“Please, Ben. I’m asking as a brother. Just give it a try. Talk to Templeman just once. I’m not asking you to grovel on the floor of the church. Just ask him. What can it hurt?”
Benjamin heaved a sigh of exasperation. “All right, Frank. You win, dammit. I was hoping never to have to talk to that damned priest again, but I will if you want me to, for all the good it will do.”
“Thanks, Ben. Drop by afterwards and let me know what he said, will ya?
Benjamin watched as Zieglar climbed up into the seat of his wagon. Zieglar turned and gave Benjamin a wave, then flicked the reigns and headed the horses toward Athena.
Benjamin pondered this new situation.
After everything that’s happened, now this. The pope wants to kick dues-paying members out of the Church, so now I have to talk to that damned priest. Could things get any worse?
The sound of the main door opening and closing brought Templeman out of St Mary’s sacristy at the rear of the church. He saw Benjamin in the center aisle walking toward him. He knew why he was there.
“So, you’re their emissary?”
“Whatever you want to call it. It’s not my idea. Frank Zieglar came by my place a few days ago and asked me to talk to you. You scared off all the Catholics in the lodge and he figured I was the best choice since Delina belonged to Saint Mary’s.”
“Well, I expected they’d send someone, but I have to admit I never considered you, Ben, not considering your obvious attitude toward the Church. I thought they’d send one of your members who’s a minister at one of the protestant churches.”
Damn, thought Templeman, Why him of all people? Could this get any worse?
“I suppose we’re not that clever, Father – or that sinister. We’re honest, simple men. We’d make poor politicians. I suppose they thought you’d see a minister as a rival. To Frank it seemed reasonable for me to speak to you since my wife was a member of your parish. That’s all there is to it.”
“I see. Well, a couple of parishioners who are, or were, lodge members dropped by when no one was around to make sure they understood correctly. I told them what I expect I’ll be telling you.”
“Which is, Ben, there’s nothing I can do about it. The Holy See – the pope – has promulgated a Code of Canon Law, which includes a prohibition against Catholics becoming Freemasons. If they do, they’re automatically excommunicated. As you just said, ‘that’s all there is to it.’ Your Catholic lodge brothers have to make a choice: Freemasonry or the Church. It’s just that simple.”
Templeman noticed Benjamin clench his jaw.
“That’s what I told Zieglar you’d say. I told him I’d be wasting my time talking to you. You people have made up your minds. It doesn’t matter that those men are successful hardworking citizens. It doesn’t matter that they’re businessmen and farmers who contribute to this town and put money in your collection basket. None of that makes a difference to you and your Holy Roman Catholic Church, does it? You don’t see a man. All you see is a Freemason, or what you think a Freemason is. Nothing else about him matters.”
Templeman was surprised Benjamin was still there. He’d fully expected him to turn around and walk out of the church once he’d gotten the answer he must have known he’d get.
Why is he still here? Who is he really angry at, the Church or me?
“Why is this happening now?” Benjamin continued. “How old is your Church? 1,900 years? You’d think this would have come up before now, in the middle of a world war. Don’t they have anything more important to do in Rome?”
Templeman gestured toward the front pew. “Let’s sit down, Ben,” he said with a note of resignation, “we’re going to be here for awhile.”
They sat down and turned to face each other in the pew.
“Ben, this isn’t ‘coming out of the blue,’ as you put it. Catholics have been forbidden from becoming Freemasons for almost 200 years. Simply because we haven’t gone around hitting people over the head doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have known about the prohibition against joining a Masonic Lodge. One reason the Knights of Columbus was created was to provide Catholic men with an alternative to Freemasonry. That’s no secret.”
“It still isn’t right to throw a man out of his church because he joined a fraternal group. That seems more like something the Kaiser would do or maybe those Communists in Russia we keep reading about in the papers.”
“Ben, there’s a misunderstanding, but it’s a common one. No one is excommunicated fromthe Church. Being excommunicated simply means a Catholic can no longer receive the sacraments, such as Communion and absolution of sins. That means he can’t fully participate in the life of the Church. Excommunication is either formal or informal. There are a number of offenses that automatically incur informal excommunication without any action being taken by a Church official. Becoming a Freemason is one of them.”
“Are you saying the Catholics in my lodge have already been excommunicated?”
“Yes,” Templeman said. “They were excommunicated the moment they took their first Masonic oath. But all they have to do to have the excommunication lifted is to resign from the lodge and confess to a priest. Organizations have rules, Ben. Men who join your lodge and become Masons agree to follow your rules, don’t they? So do Catholics.”
“Maybe it’s not that simple,” replied Benjamin. “This doesn’t seem to be about religion, Father. This isn’t about worshiping God or Jesus Christ. This isn’t about compassion and forgiveness. This is about control. This is about the Roman Catholic Church maintaining as much control as it can over its members so the pope and his cardinals, bishops and priests can keep their fat cat jobs. Without your so-called faithful to do the working and the earning and the paying, all you priests would have to go out and get real jobs. You think Freemasonry is a threat to all that because you have no control over it. Hah! That’s what really going on!”
Templeman struggled to maintain control. This man is sitting in my church and attacking my faith. What gives him that right?
“Ben, you’re making my next point for me. What you just said is both anti-Catholic and anti-Papist. That’s the issue my Church has with your Freemasonry! That’s why our pope and other popes before him have condemned it! Maybe you’re the one who’s ignorant and prejudiced!”
Benjamin rose from the pew and walked toward the altar rail a few feet away. He turned to face Templeman. His arms were crossed and his back was to the altar. The scene struck Templeman; the crucified Christ, suspended over the altar, appeared to be looking down at Benjamin in sad contemplation as though listening to his every word in judgment. For a few seconds, Templeman was rattled by the image.
“That’s idiotic, Templeman. The Catholic Church threw the first punch. For as long as I’ve been a Mason, I’ve heard no one, I repeat, no one, utter a single word against Catholics or the pope. We’re not even supposed to talk about religion in the lodge – or politics for that matter. Masonry allows men of different faiths and politics and backgrounds to get together as equals. Politics and religion are sources of too many differences that can lead to arguments. We leave it all alone. To be a Mason, a man just has to believe in God. Period. We don’t care what religion a man practices or if he even practices one at all, as long as he believes in God.”
Templeman looked down and took a deep breath. He then he lifted his eyes and looked at Benjamin.
“Ben, we believe the Roman Catholic Church is the one true faith. By stating a man’s religion is irrelevant for admission to Freemasonry, that in the view of Freemasonry all religions, or even lack of religion, are viewed as equal, Freemasonry is heretical. The Masonic concept of religious equality is viewed as proof that Freemasons champion the downfall of all religions, specifically Catholicism. Not only that, but if religion is held to be irrelevant, justice and morality will follow.”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this from an intelligent and educated person,” said Benjamin. “Even Delina never spoke like this, and she was a devout as they come. We never said religion doesn’t matter in a man’s life! We only hold religion doesn’t matter as far as joining a lodge is concerned, not that we want all religions eliminated! You’ve twisted the meaning of a rule that was meant to bring men together as equals.”
“Ben, please listen to me. There’s no doubt in my mind your lodge isn’t explicitly anti-Catholic in that you aren’t consciously conspiring against the Church or the pope. But you have to understand that the idea that a man’s religion is irrelevant is heretical. Therefore, Freemasonry isimplicitly anti-Catholic and that makes it an enemy of the Church. Now you can see why no man who is a Freemason can be accepted as a Roman Catholic.”
“No,” Benjamin said, “I can’t see that. When I was a young man in the Army they told us that just because we have to take orders doesn’t mean we don’t have to think. That was one of the few things I learned in the Army that made any sense. I realized that on a battlefield my only defense against stupidity was thinking. That lesson was driven home when I left Cuba alive. A lot of my friends didn’t. I remembered that lesson, Father. Ever since then, I’ve made it my business to give a lot of thought to what’s important to my family and me. And just because I’m a dirt farmer, doesn’t mean I don’t read. I do. I read as much as I can. I do it in self-defense.”
“No. Let me finish. The reason I got back from Cuba was because I refused to swallow anything on blind faith. I don’t believe in it. I suppose that’s why I’m not so religious. Just because someone I’m supposed to be able to trust says a thing, doesn’t mean it’s so. That includes you, Father. What I see here is ignorance and prejudice. Considering us heretical just because we don’t care about a man’s religion is pretty paltry stuff. There has to be some other reason why the Church would be so hell-bent to vilify a fraternal organization. What I see are church bosses condemning a group of men they don’t know anything about and don’t want to know anything about. Why? I still think it’s because the pope is terrified of losing control over the members who pay the bills.”
Templeman’s anger was rising. He stood up. “Ben, we can have a reasonable discussion or we can have a shouting match. You came to me and you’re in God’s house. Please respect that or we can’t continue.”
“If you want me to respect you, then you respect me and my organization – an organization of millions of good men who have done a lot of good for a lot of people.” Benjamin kept his arms crossed over his chest and looked at Templeman.
“Ben, I’m not making any of this up. To answer your question, over 30 years ago the pope at the time, Pope Leo XIII, issued what is known as a papal encyclical. It was titled Humanum Genus, the Human Species, but that’s not important. What is important is that it detailed the objections the Church has to Freemasonry. It still applies today.”
“Really? So what other heinous and heretical beliefs are we guilty of?”
Templeman could see the veins in Benjamin’s neck were pounding.
I wonder if the veins in my neck are bulging like his?
“Please, Ben. Listen to me. You aren’t going to like this, but please be calm so we can have a rational discussion.”
Benjamin’s expression changed from one of anger to suspicion.
Thank you Bro. J. J. Knights for you contribution this week!
If you would like to be the next contributor, send me an email. I hope you will.