Masons ‘mysterious, not secret’, top English Freemason says on Hong Kong visit
Grand secretary of English lodge tries to dispel some of the myths surrounding controversial order as city receives new grandmaster
Freemasonry is not a “secret society” but must still preserve an element of “mystery” as it opens up to scrutiny, a leading figure in the organisation said as he visited the city yesterday.
Nigel Brown, grand secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, was speaking before yesterday’s installation of a new district grandmaster for the Hong Kong Freemasons, a once-in-a-decade transition.
The masonic order has long been fodder for conspiracy theorists – accused of everything from plotting a “new world order” to, more credibly, serving as an old boys’ network, with members helping one another advance.
But Brown declared: “We are not a secret society.
“There is no secret handshake,” he said, adding that “it is also absolutely true that there is no obligation [to fellow members], no business networking. We are always mindful of the needs of others, so it’s caring for others, not ‘jobs for the boys’.”
Brown was accompanied by Peter Lowndes, pro-grandmaster of the English lodge and second-highest-ranking mason after the Duke of Kent, to oversee the ceremony to install Vivian Lee as Hong Kong’s new grandmaster.
About 200 people joined the members-only ceremony at the order’s Zetland Hall headquarters in Mid-Levels.
Lee, who works in finance, succeeds lawyer David Fok, grandmaster for the past 10 years.
The succession comes at a time of internal strife for Hong Kong’s Freemasons. Many members expressed unease at the handling of a case in which a high-ranking Freemason was cleared in September 2011 of three counts of indecently assaulting a secretary at Zetland Hall. And there were claims of a cover-up over the theft of more than HK$500,000 by a non- Mason bartender at the hall.
On the theft, Brown said “it was a matter that had been taken care of and settled”, and on the indecent assault case, he said the accused “was absolutely cleared, so there was no case to answer”.
Most of Hong Kong’s 27 Masonic Lodges continue to affiliate to the English lodge, with a smaller number affiliated to the Scottish and Irish lodges.
A Grand Lodge of China also exists, based in Taipei.
Describing the Hong Kong chapter as “very important”, Brown said: “We could be very inward-looking, but we are outward-looking, and we are very proud of those people in Hong Kong who have wanted to stay in the English constitution.”
Hong Kong’s “English” Freemasons number about 1,000 and have long included many prominent figures in local society.
And, despite claims by some members that numbers were slipping, Fok said the figures had remained consistent during his decade in office.
And Brown agreed, adding: “We are getting lots of new members. Recruitment is going up. What we’ve got to do is to make [sure] that everybody who joins is looked after and stays.”
But another row is brewing involving John Chynchen, a senior Mason and honorary chaplain at St John’s Cathedral, who has been accused of not properly attributing sermons to their original source.
“Plagiarism by a senior Mason is completely at odds with the high standards of morality and ethical conduct expected of a mason,” said a member, adding that Fok’s failure to investigate “smacks of bias and cronyism”.
But Fok, a Mason since 1979, said: “This is nothing to do with masonry. This is a matter for the church.”
Brown added: “What sermon is not plagiarised? I can’t think of any religious person who doesn’t use material from somewhere else. There’s nothing here that would have brought Freemasonry into disrepute.”
Chynchen did not return calls from the Post.