Can Catholics Become Freemasons?

Q: There’s a man running for office in my area whose campaign brochures describe his community involvement. They say that he is a member of a Catholic parish, and also that he is a member of a Masonic Lodge. I thought Catholics couldn’t become Masons. Has the law on that been changed? -Vicki

A: No, although many people wrongly believe that it has.

As we saw in the September 6, 2007 column, the Code of Canon Law that was promulgated in 1983 by Pope John Paul II replaced the earlier code of 1917. The 1917 code was thus abrogated-repealed and replaced, in other words-by the current code.

Canon 2335 of the 1917 code stated clearly that those Catholics who joined a Masonic organization or some other, similar group that plotted against the Church or against civil authority, incurred excommunication. The Church’s interpretation of Freemasonry’s main purpose was pretty clear: it was an association that plots against Catholicism. Membership in it was, therefore, obviously inconsistent with being a Catholic.

Except that to some it was not so obvious. Confusion subsequently arose as to whether every single Masonic lodge throughout the world was to be considered part of an organization actively plotting to harm the Church. After all, many men who are members of Masonic lodges view Masonry solely as a fraternal and charitable organization. They have no personal knowledge of anti-Catholic activities at their lodges, and often are bewildered at the very notion. Here in the U.S., for example, probably most of us are aware that the Shriners (who are Masons) raise funds to help sick and handicapped children. Both Masons and non-Masons might object that this sort of philanthropic work is surely a far cry from any alleged activity aimed at damaging the Catholic Church!

It would appear from the wording of the former canon 2335 that if perchance a Masonic lodge could have demonstrated that it had no involvement with or interest in conspiring against the Catholic faith, then the law would have permitted Catholics to become members. The question arose, therefore, as to whether some Masonic groups could be considered exempt from the canonical prohibition. Occasionally statements were made and letters written on the question by Vatican officials, but they were couched in terms that many found ambiguous, and unfortunately did little to clarify matters.

Far from resolving the confusion, the new Code of Canon Law that was promulgated in 1983 left many Catholics even more perplexed. The corresponding canon in the current law does not even mention Masonry by name. Instead, it uses much broader terminology: anyone who joins an association that plots against the Church is to be punished by a just penalty (c. 1374). This was interpreted by many sincere Catholics as an about-face, and they concluded that under the new law, since many Masonic lodges have no apparent involvement whatsoever in anti-Catholic conspiracies, Catholics are no longer forbidden to join them. To this day, one often hears vague comments about “the spirit of Vatican II” somehow having had a hand in reversing the former ban, and that this constitutes evidence that the Church nowadays is more open and ecumenical than it was before.

What these commentators apparently do not know, however, is that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Declaration on this very subject in 1983, the same year that the new Code of Canon Law was promulgated. This document provides a theological interpretation of canon 1374. It notes that the new code does not expressly mention Freemasonry because of an “editorial criterion,” which led the Code Commission to avoid mentioning by name specific associations “inasmuch as they are contained in wider categories.” The Declaration asserts clearly that “the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged, since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.”

Furthermore, the document states unambiguously that local church authorities do not have the authority to make any judgment on this matter that would constitute a relaxation of this ban. In other words, a diocesan bishop or chancery official cannot grant permission in a particular case for a member of the diocese to become a Mason. There are to be no exceptions!

This document was approved by the late Pope John Paul II. Lest anyone wonder whether the current pope might possibly reverse this ban, it should be noted that the Declaration had been presented to John Paul II by none other than Cardinal Ratzinger, the then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It seems fairly reasonable to assume that the prohibition will remain in force at least during the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

So what is the big deal about Freemasonry, anyway? Masons frequently describe their organization as one devoted to brotherhood and the improvement of society by enlightened means. They deny that they are a secret society at all, much less a society conspiring to destroy the Catholic Church. They emphasize that, as mentioned above, they are largely a social fraternity involved in charitable works.

It must be pointed out that many, many Masons make these assertions in good faith, genuinely unaware of the overarching aims of international Freemasonry. A thorough history of the Masons is of course beyond the scope of this column, but there is much historical evidence that there is a lot more to Masonry than just fraternity and brotherhood.

Over 100 years ago, Pope Leo XIII addressed the aims of Freemasonry in his encyclical Humanum Genus. The pope pointed out that their “fundamental doctrine… is that human nature and human reason ought in all things to be mistress and guide,” which on the surface does not necessarily appear objectionable. But a consequence of this foundational belief is that “they deny that anything has been taught by God… And since it is the special and exclusive duty of the Catholic Church fully to set forth in words truths divinely received, to teach, besides other divine helps to salvation, the authority of its office, and to defend it…, it is against the Church that the rage and attack of the enemies are principally directed” (12).

In other words, Freemasons’ references to their enlightened ideas and generous ideals of universal fraternity may sound positive, but their insistence on acceptance of these concepts actually implies a fundamental conflict with the Catholic Church. Insofar as the Church teaches that it possesses divine truths which were revealed nearly 2000 years ago by the Son of God, it embraces a belief system that is diametrically opposed to Freemasonry. And in asserting its own beliefs, Freemasonry cannot but work against the Catholic Church. To cite just a few examples, if one delves in detail into the history behind the bloody persecution of Catholic clergy during the French Revolution in the 18th century, political upheavals in Catholic Spain in the late 1800’s, or the brutal assault on the Catholic Church in Mexico in the early 20th century, the quiet, behind-the-scenes direction and influence of Freemasonry can be seen. In other words, there is plenty of evidence that Masons have already in the past been involved in attacks on the Church. The Vatican’s assertion that Masonry is anti-Catholic is not based merely on some sort of vague notion of potential problems; it is grounded in cold, hard historical facts!

Consequently, the aspiring politician to whom Vicki refers is most decidedly not permitted to be a member of a Masonic lodge if he is a Catholic. It seems highly unlikely, however, that he is aware of this ban, especially since he is publicly acknowledging this membership in his campaign literature. Like so many other men, he probably joined the Masons in entirely good faith, viewing as a social organization and nothing more.

So what, if anything, should be done about it? Well, the person who definitely should intervene in a constructive, pastoral way in this situation is this political candidate’s pastor. Alternately, his diocesan bishop can and should play a role in educating him about the incompatibility of Catholicism and Freemasonry. Keep in mind that if this man has joined a Masonic lodge without knowing that it is forbidden for Catholics to do so, there may very well be others in his diocese who have done the same. This may prove to be a classic “teaching moment” for the clergy of the diocese, to explain to the Catholics under their care that no matter how noble the aims of Freemasonry may appear, they are at their root incompatible with the most fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church.

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  • digitaldeacon

    Not only what was mentioned above but also Freemasonry is in itself is a religion. They have worship masters and a creed and rituals. So a Catholic cannot profess the Creed of the Catholic Church and the Creed of the Masons at the same time. They will not admit to be a religion but they are. Their creed confesses and believes in a divine architect. My Father-in Law was a Scottish Rite Mason and he went berserk
    when my wife became a Catholic.

  • nathan.faucher

    In a state representative election race this year, the more conservative of the candidates, the Republican, is a Mason. I know that the Democrat candidate is very, very liberal, and I would really rather not vote for her. Is it wrong to vote for a Mason, even if they are Pro Life, and they support other good values?

  • mkochan

    Where I live in Georgia, many of the Baptist ministers are Masons (something I found shocking!)and the Baptist Home Mission Board has tried very hard to get the message out that Masonry is completely incompatible with Nicene Christianity — even of the Protestant variety. I doubt few of them even know the history of Masonry; they view it as a mere fraternal organization and membership may run through the generations. I’m sure a lot our southern politicians are in it. But like the author said about the Catholic man in question — they may be there in good faith, unwittingly. The Church has spoken on the matter of voting for pro-abortion politicians, but not to my knowledge regarding voting for Masons.

  • As far as voting for a Mason, I do not think that you would be in any danger. It would be similar to voting for a person of the Jewish Faith. The important thing to watch for is what the person espouses in his public life, for you are voting him to represent your beliefs in that arena. You write that this candidate is pro-life and that is very important.

    Not all Masons are pro-life. In fact, there are some Masons who are abortionists. Let us pray for all Masons, that they would come to know the love of Christ in His Church.

  • Pingback: Can Catholics Become Freemasons? | Illuminati Conspiracy Archive Blog()

  • rjflynndesign

    This is a blatant, one sided argument that negates strong evidence and reason behind the lack of masonic support from the church. Lies such as that masons teach that Jesus was just a man, that blood oaths are preformed, and that “the great architect of the universe” takes the place of the trinity are ill informed beliefs generated from people who read too many conspiracy books.

    As a mason, who is catholic, i have the benefit to seeing this issue from both perspectives. Masonry, is not what you read in a Dan Brown novel, it is not a satanic cult, and it sure is not the illuminati trying to overthrow the church. Assuming that the readers here do not understand the fundamentals of freemasonry, i will briefly explain. The freemasons are a group of men who believe that they have a sacred duty as men of God, to make their mark upon the world in a way that benefits mankind, as a hole. Not just one religion, not just one country, but everyone, everywhere. The 3 tenants that we adhere to are Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. In other words, live a good life, treat others well, and when ever possible, be a charitably as possible. Hardly the devils work. To further this point, because of the harsh ramifications from hostil actions by all religions and politics, the topic of religion nor politics is forbidden from being discussed in a lodge. Now the basis of your argument above states numerous historical points where “masonic influence” hurt the church.  Yes, freemasons were involved in many historical activities, but I must clarify, these were not done as a masonic action. For example, the boston tea party was performed by many masons. But it was absolutely not a masonic event. In fact, as we enter into our first degree as a mason, we are charged ”  as a mason, you are to be exemplary in your civic duty my neither promoting nor countenancing  any act which may have a tendencies to subdue the decent order of society” Any mention of such an act in a lodge would have brought immediate expulsion from the people talking about it.
    Using historical facts can be brought to make the church look much worse than freemasons. Millions of murders, tortures and hundreds of wars all came from the sole hands of the Catholic Church, claiming to be the hand of God. More people have died by the hand of the Catholic Church, in the name of Christ than any other person, country or  religion in history.  But this, like the argument of the masons in history, is null in void due to the informative age we live in. We know this is history, we know we have learned from it, yet with the masons, people refuse to simply ask what it really is, and it can not be said enough, it is a group of God fearing men, who gather in a place without the pressures of religion and politics, to praise God, ask for his guidance and help their neighbor. 
    Why can catholics not become masons. Simply. Fear and Ignorance.  Fear of the unknown, ignorance of the truth. Writings from anti masonic writers who had no facts to base their work on have  been taken as hard fact. Rumors of secret rituals involving swords and blood oaths have become legends that promote stories of virgin sacrifice, satanic worship and new world order. It’s quite comical. People would rather believe that a world wide fraternity is trying to take over the world than trying to fix it. Are the Shriners Hospitals the devils playground? No. 

    Also, briefly, “the Grand Architect of the universe” is a term we use that is a generic term for the creator, the giver of life. In a room where Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants gather in harmony, we use a term in our audible prayers to lead all, and let each of us pray to our personal God. When i pray in lodge, i pray to my savior, Jesus Christ, and it is none of my business who the man next to me prays to.  I am a 32º Freemason and Roman Catholic. I feed the poor, I help the needy, I treat my brothers as i want to be treated. I am a member of an organization the pushes down the barriers built up by antiquated religious dogma and meet in a way where we all recognize each other as children of God, children with a God given duty to make this world a better place. Children charged with learning how God’s creation works, with science and math. If this is against the views of the Catholic Church, then perhaps the church, not Freemasonry is holding back the advancement of the understanding of God, His world, and his will.

  • Guest

    1.) You are not Catholic if you are a freemason. Pope Clement XII stated in IN EMINENTI that “Masons, or whatever other name they may go by, are to be
    condemned and prohibited, and by Our present Constitution, valid forever…under pains of excommunication.”
    >> Valid forever. Meaning cannot be overturned. This could, in many regards, be considered an ex cathedra statement as it pertains to faith and morals and is made as a permanent decree. Pope Leo XIII went on to write 4 encyclicals condemning the evils of freemasonry and its undeniable goal to subvert and destroy the Church.
    2.) This does not mean you are not a charitable person. However, to compound being a freemason, you are also directly slandering the Catholic Church above, accusing it of antiquated religious dogma (Pope St. Pius X condemned modernism and those who would call the Church Traditions antiquated and from medieval times also under the pain of excommunication). Pope SAINT Pius X. He’s a saint.
    3.) The question is not about how many people the Church has physically killed versus freemasonry. The question is how many souls have been saved. And since the Church is the vessel of the salvation of souls, the bride of Christ and His living body, all three things which freemasonry certainly is not and is arguably the antithesis of through worship of Baphomet and pagan symbolism and deism, the question of physical deaths is irrelevant.

    *Note: if you yourself are not directly aware of the evils of freemasonry at its core and foundations and highest levels, there is still time for you to understand and research why the papal fathers considered it to be the chief rival of the Church. Namely with posterchildren like Jay-Z who make a point to make all-seeing eye pyramids and 6 hand gestures around their eyes while writing abominable songs like “Lucifer” and “D’Evils” and backmasing “Murder, Murder Jesus…666” into another son. I haven’t seen the Grand Lodges come out and explicity ask Mr. Z to stop making it look like he is a freemason if he isn’t since his apparel is all Kabbalah Freemasonic Illuminati Rocawear…which seems to suggest that they are okay with the message his communicating to the world and especially black America which the Freemasons have made great strides to suppress since this country was founded (just research John Q. Adams and how he was part of the anti-mason party also fighting Slave Power of the southern masons). It could be argued that blacks are now more than ever slaves to a culture which has been propagated by the hip hop/rap media with the Grand (Lodge) Puppetmaster behind it all.

  • Guest

    In addition, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
    So having Freemason tenets supposedly tied to “Truth” but then admitting to prohibiting religious discussion from the Lodge is a direct contradiction of Catholic faith. There is no Truth outside Jesus. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. Truth is not “charitable work.” Atheists do charitable work. That doesn’t mean they have the Truth.
    Belief in one “Grand Architect” shared by all as the same God is called deism, and it’s not Catholic, it’s heresy.

    It seems like you have spent some time researching freemasonry, or at least what they have told you about it, but I can recommend for a source of all encyclicals, catechism, etc.

  • LCD

    Funny how an institution like the Catholic Church goes around telling people to live pious and lawful lives can not keep its own house in order. Being raised Catholic, it was instilled in me at an early age the “infallibility” of the Church and the Pope in particular. When we sin, we need to go to confession to be absolved of our sins. One needs to absolved by God’s representative on Earth, i.e. priest.
    I have been yelled at by priests in the confessional and made to feel like dirt because of my “sins”.
    Yet, when the Church sins it can forgive itself. One only needs to look at the Church’s long history of warfare in the name of God and most recently the priest sex abuse scandals which have rocked the institution worldwide. There have been rumors that when Pope Benedict XVI was a bishop back in Germany he was moving known pedophile priests from parish to parish in order to protect the Church’s reputation.
    What about the victims? Of course, the Church leadership chooses to ignore them.
    So, where does the Roman Catholic Church get off on telling people what organizations they can join?
    The Masons are one of the most charitable fraternities in the world. The Masons value charity and good works towards their fellow humans more than anything else and always help a Masonic brother in need.
    This is why I am so proud to be a Mason because I found friendships and connections which I never found in the Church. Masonry is not a “religion” as the Church is so quick to assume. And honestly, if people looked into the reason why the Catholic Church is so anti-Mason they would be surprised.
    Therefore, the Catholic Church should take a good look at itself first before it passing judgement. Myself, I am a Mason and proud.

  • falcons12345

    “insistence on acceptance of these concepts actually implies a fundamental conflict with the Catholic Church” So a Pope 100 years ago felt that Masons could sorta maybe if you twisted it just a little bit be incompatible with the Catholic Church. Regardless of the fact that you must profess a belief in God to join. Guess what other organizations “imply” a fundamental conflict: Alcoholics Anonymous, The Pledge of Allegiance, the Oath of Office. Well I guess, since these organizations dont profess a direct alliegence to the church of Rome, then they are incompatible with the Catholic faith.

  • raundreasnief

    Well said my brother. I read some of the replies to your post and see where ignorance has led to stupidity. Yes, you can be both a Catholic and Mason. Argue with me all you want, I don’t care. I don’t argue with Catholics. I teach them, often through silence.

  • Mike Grady

    Yea nice article. A lot of people do not realize John XXIII was a 33rd degree mason. The 1958 Conclave was a coup d’etat. I think the church has been off track ever since.

  • John Siegmund

    The disagreement is completely political. The church was losing its political power in Europe, during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and was blaming the rise of republican forms of government, which is supported by freemasonry, has the cause of this. Yes there were Popes who condemned the American revolution and republican form of government because it was believed that rule by the people leads to anarchy and religious pluralism and a separation of church and state. Yes there were irregular atheistic anarchistic groups calling themselves masons who plotted violence against priests and the church. However these organizations were denounced by regular masonic organizations. Cardinal Ratizainger’s CDF pronouncement is also political because the Italian P2, irregular masonic, organization was involved in the Vatican bank scandal in the early 80s and this was exposed about the time he put out this pronouncement. I believe this ban is outdated and needs to be updated by defining regular and irregular masonic organizations.

  • snafudle

    In my three degrees in the Mason’s, I saw nothing to conflict with a mans religion.