What is the difference between a fraternity and a confraternity? The best that I can figure is that a fraternity is more organized. A confraternity is like joining a club but not having meetings like a confederation of individuals, each on their own?
According to dictionary.com:
1.a lay brotherhood devoted to some purpose, especially to religious or charitable service.
2. a society or organization, especially of men, united for some purpose or in some profession.
- a local or national organization of male students, primarily for social purposes, usually with secret initiation and rites and a name composed of two or three Greek letters. 2. a group of persons associated by or as if by ties of brotherhood.
- any group or class of persons having common purposes, interests, etc.: the medical fraternity.
- an organization of laymen for religious or charitable purposes; sodality.
- the quality of being brotherly; brotherhood: liberty, equality, and fraternity.
It seems that Confraternity definition 1 and Fraternity definition 4 are pretty much the same.
A confraternity is a specifically Catholic group of laypeople. You can have a rosary confraternity, a scapular confraternity, and so on. There’s the Confraternity of the Precious Blood, the Confraternity of Holy Guardian Angels, the Confraternity of the Miraculous Medal, and so on. Basically you have some sort of sacramental, or pious practice, or act of charity, or special devotion, or so on, and build an [approved] organization around promoting that specific sacramental/devotion, living that way of life, and so on.
Fraternal organizations tend to be more broad in scope, from what I’ve seen, with multiple focuses. The Knights of Columbus are dedicated to supporting the church and serving the community, but it often takes the form of pancake breakfasts, fish frys, bingo, blood drives, food drives. There are Catholic fraternities like the Catholic Holy Family Society that do eyeglass drives, recognize Catholic educators, give scholarships to Catholic students, give grants to church projects— but primarily are a vehicle for providing life insurance to Catholics and their families. The Ancient Order of Hibernians is an Irish-American Catholic fraternity that had its roots in secret societies that protected Irish Catholics from religious persecution, and was established to help Catholic immigrants. It still does that-- but also is involved in political, social, and economic issues.
So I’d say that a confraternity is extremely focused and limited in its nature, and a fraternity is more broad and general.
One example: Confraternity of Catholic Clergy is an association of Catholic Priests and Deacons pledged to the pursuit of personal holiness, loyalty to the Roman Pontiff, commitment to theological study and strict adherence to the authentic teachings of the Magisterium.