Q. Can Catholics morally give donations to the Shriners Hospitals? Their ads are very convincing, but aren’t the Shriners Masons?

A. All Shriners are Masons. (The reverse, though, is not true. Shriners International began in 1872 as a spinoff of Freemasonry, with philanthropy as one of its principal goals.) Shriners Hospitals for Children is a network of 22 facilities across North America that specializes in treating children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lips and palates – all without regard to a family’s ability to pay.

True, Catholics have long been prohibited from joining the Masons since it is, at its core, a naturalistic religion. (Pope Leo XIII in 1884 said that Masonry had as its fundamental tenet “that human nature and human reason ought in all things be mistress and guide,” and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared in 1983 that “the faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin.”)

Your monetary donation to the Shriners Hospitals, though, is given not to advance the spread of Masonic doctrine but simply to help offer compassionate care to children, and I would feel comfortable making such a donation.  

Q. How far must one go in pro-life issues to be a good Catholic? May one support a charitable organization if one of its services is to do abortions? I have long supported Doctors Without Borders for its lifesaving work throughout the world. But in a recent magazine article, they admit supplying women victims of rape with abortifacients and “safe termination of pregnancy.”

A. Doctors Without Borders – also known by its French name Medecins Sans Frontieres – has, since its founding in 1971, brought lifesaving care to many sick and wounded people caught in war, epidemics and other disasters. Sadly, though, I do not believe that faithful Catholics should donate to this organization.

On its own website, Medecins Sans Frontieres concedes that since 2004, it has been offering abortions on request at some of its field sites and that its responsibility is to “respect the reason the woman or young girl gives for wanting to have an abortion.”

As to whether Catholics may assist Medecins Sans Frontieres financially, one might turn to “Guidelines on Giving to Charitable Organizations,” published by the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

Asked whether a Catholic may donate to an organization that supports research that destroys human embryos to procure stem cells, the center said, “The answer is no. By donating to a research institute or drug manufacturer that funds research that destroys human beings, one would be cooperating immorally in the act of destroying young human life. Cooperating in an intrinsic evil is itself an intrinsic evil and should be avoided in all circumstances.”

Some might argue, I suppose, that Catholic donors to Medecins Sans Frontieres could specify that their own contributions be used only for medical care and not for abortions; but that, I feel, is an artificial distinction since it would simply free up other donations to be used for immoral purposes.