Dear Grace, Thank you for your column. I would appreciate if you would clarify the position of the Catholic Church regarding Freemasonry. Is it compatible with our faith?
Freemasonry, which dates from the year 1717, is not considered to be compatible with the Catholic faith. Because it was a secret society that had shown itself to be radically anti-Catholic, Pope Clement XII, in 1738, issued a solemn and definitive condemnation of Freemasonry and everything related to it, absolutely prohibiting Catholics from becoming members. The Church has repeated this teaching in at least 300 other documents, statements and solemn pronouncements.
Freemasonry is organized very much like a religion in that it “displays all the elements of religion, and as such it becomes a rival to the religion of the Gospel. It includes temples and altars, prayers, a moral code, worship, vestments, feast days, the promise of reward and punishment in the afterlife, a hierarchy, and initiative and burial rites” (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 6, p. 137). The differences between its teaching and those of the Catholic Church are numerous.
The pope who most strongly spoke out against Freemasonry was Leo XIII in his 1884 encyclical Humanum genus. Pope Leo was concerned that although the Freemasons make many things public, “there are many things like mysteries which it is the fixed rule to hide with extreme care, not only from strangers, but also from their very many members, such as their secret and final designs, the names of the chief leaders, and certain secret and inner meetings, as well as their decisions, and the ways and means of carrying them out” (no.9). In other words, much is hidden from their very own members. It is conceivable, then, that some members may not be aware that their beliefs are contrary to the Catholic faith.
The Church has imposed the penalty of excommunication on Catholics who become Freemasons. The penalty of excommunication for joining the Masonic Lodge was explicit in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (canon 2335), and it is implicit in the 1983 code (canon 1374). Because the revised and current Code of Canon Law is not explicit on this point, some thought mistakenly that the Church's prohibition of Freemasonry had changed. As a result of this confusion, shortly before the 1983 code was promulgated, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement indicating that the penalty was still in force.
The following is part of their statement and is the most recent decree from the Vatican on the subject of Freemasonry and thus is the most current position of the Church's law on this topic: “The Church's negative judgment in regard to Masonic associations 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” (Issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on November 26, 1983).
Let us keep in mind of course that God loves every human person, even those who are separated from Him and His Church. Every individual is called to conversion and repentance. It is up to all of us to pray for one another’s salvation. Love is ultimately the answer to all division and disunity.
© Copyright 2004 Grace D. MacKinnon
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Grace MacKinnon holds an MA in theology and is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit her online at www.DearGrace.com.