A number of senior Orangemen have called for the rule forbidding attendance at Catholic services to be either clarified or scrapped.
Their comments came after it emerged that UUP leader Tom Elliott and DRD Minister Danny Kennedy are facing disciplinary action from the Order after they attended the funeral of murdered Catholic PSNI officer Ronan Kerr.
Lord Laird, master of Belfast’s York LOL 145, said he had often attended Masses when close friends have died or had weddings.
He said: “I don’t think twice about it. I understand the historic bit but these are modern times and we are trying to bind people together who serve the community. I believe this rule should be changed.”
The pair face potential censure from the Grand Lodge of Ireland after a Belfast lodge made an official complaint that the pair had broken rules by attending a church service not of the reformed faith.
But last night Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Mr Elliott said he and Mr Kennedy had done the right thing.
“It was the honourable thing, and certainly myself and Danny have no regrets over that,” he said.
Constable Kerr died in April aged 25 after a dissident republican booby-trap bomb exploded under his car in Omagh.
“I do not believe it was any sin or crime to go to the funeral of a murdered police officer, someone who was serving this community, someone who actually served in my constituency,” Mr Elliott added.
Robert Saulters, who stepped down as Grand Master earlier this year, called on Grand Lodge, the order’s supreme authority in Ireland, to give a lead.
While Mr Saulters didn’t go as far as Lord Laird in demanding change, he said: “It’s their call. They can keep it or get rid of it, but it keeps cropping up and it covers everybody (in the Order).”
The prohibition on attending appears in the Qualifications of an Orangeman, which state that each member “should scrupulously avoid countenancing (by his presence or otherwise) any act or ceremony of Popish worship”.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, a former Assistant Grand Master, said Mr Kennedy and Mr Elliott had been right to attend the funeral. He said: “I hope common sense prevails — it would be helpful to create clarity around the rules.”