Members of the Shriners fraternal organization are a recognizable sight. Often clad in fez hats, they can be seen in parades driving small cars, or PSAs can be heard on the radio regarding Shriners Hospitals for Children. But what are Shriners, and why can't Catholics join them?

Founding of the Shriners

The term "Shriner" comes from the full name of the organization, the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. The group, founded in 1870, is an extension of the Freemasons, a men's fraternal organization. In order to become a Shriner, you must already be a Freemason. The Shriners group is a fraternity for Master Masons that meets for fun and fellowship over traditional ritual. This is a case of "not all Freemasons are Shriners, but all Shriners are Freemasons." Core tenets of the Shriners involve a strong belief in family, personal growth, and care for families and children in need.

Membership in Freemasonary

In order to be a member of the Masons (and hence, eventually, the Shriners) the requirements involve being recommended into the Masons, whether by birth or by recommendation of another member. You must also believe in a higher power, come to them on your own free will and be able to support yourself and your family.The group goes by the motto "Better men make a better world," and revolves around improving the character of its members.

Catholics and Freemasons

Catholics are not allowed to join the Freemasons, under threat of excommunication. The Catholic Church believes that the Freemasons represent a religion with its own temples, rites, moral codes and other indicators of a religion. In addition, Catholics view Freemasonry as anti-Catholic, citing anti-papacy (pope) beliefs. Freemasonry does not conversely disallow Catholics. However, as the Catholic Church does not allow its members to join the Freemasons, this also precludes membership in the Shriners.

Knights of Columbus

In 1882, a Connecticut Catholic priest named Michael McGivney formed the Knights of Columbus, largely as a response to Freemasonry and other similar "secret societies." It is a fraternal organization designed by and for Catholics, with the goal of promotion of the faith. Additionally, it was built as a relief organization within the Catholic Church, and as a response to anti-Catholic sentiment of the time. The group has an emphasis on charitable works within the teachings of the church.