Papal ban of Freemasonry

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The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church has long been an outspoken critic of Freemasonry, first prohibiting Catholics from joining the fraternity in 1738. Since then, the Vatican has made several pronouncements forbidding Catholics from becoming Freemasons under threat of excommunication. Although there was some confusion of the issue following Vatican Council II, the Church still prohibits membership in the Freemasons because it believes that the principles of Freemasonry and the teaching of the Catholic Church are irreconcilable. A 1983 statement from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith approved by Pope John Paul II stated "The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion." and "... membership in them (Masonic associations) remains forbidden."

History of the Catholic ban[edit]

Original prohibition[edit]

In 1736, the Inquisition investigated a Masonic Lodge in Florence, Italy, which it condemned in June 1737. The Lodge had originally been founded in 1733 by the English Freemason Charles Sackville,[1] but accepted Italian members, such as the lodge's secretary Tommaso Crudeli.[2][3] This investigation led,[4] in 1738, to Pope Clement XII, himself Florentine, issuing In Eminenti Apostolatus, the first papal prohibition on Freemasonry. The reasons for the prohibition were stated as:

Now it has come to Our ears, and common gossip has made clear, that certain Societies, Companies, Assemblies, Meetings, Congregations or Conventicles called in the popular tongue Liberi Muratori or Francs Massons or by other names according to the various languages, are spreading far and wide and daily growing in strength; and men of any Religion or sect, satisfied with the appearance of natural probity, are joined together, according to their laws and the statutes laid down for them, by a strict and unbreakable bond which obliges them, both by an oath upon the Holy Bible and by a host of grievous punishment, to an inviolable silence about all that they do in secret together. But it is in the nature of crime to betray itself and to show itself by its attendant clamor. Thus these aforesaid Societies or Conventicles have caused in the minds of the faithful the greatest suspicion, and all prudent and upright men have passed the same judgment on them as being depraved and perverted. For if they were not doing evil they would not have so great a hatred of the light. Indeed, this rumor has grown to such proportions that in several countries these societies have been forbidden by the civil authorities as being against the public security, and for some time past have appeared to be prudently eliminated.[5]

Reiteration of ban on membership[edit]

Pope Leo XIII author of Humanum Genus, which reiterated the ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons

The ban of In Eminenti was reiterated and expanded upon by Benedict XIV (1751), Pius VII (1821), Leo XII (1826), Pius VIII (1829), Gregory XVI (1832), Pius IX (1846, 1849, 1864, 1865, 1869, 1873), and notably Pope Leo XIII in the encyclical Humanum Genus (1884).[6] The 1917 Code of Canon Law explicitly declared that joining Freemasonry entailed automatic excommunication.[7] The 1917 Code of Canon Law also forbade books promoting Freemasonry.[8][9]

Post-Vatican II situation[edit]

Following the Second Vatican Council questions began to arise at to whether the Church was easing its stance towards Masonry. In 1974 Cardinal Šeper, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a private letter to some Episcopal Conferences[10] that stated, in part,

"The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith... has ruled that Canon 2335 no longer automatically bars a Catholic from membership of masonic groups... And so, a Catholic who joins the Freemasons is excommunicated only if the policies and actions of the Freemasons in his area are known to be hostile to the Church ..."[11]

This advice led some Catholics to believe (mistakenly, according to subsequent clarifications) that the prohibition was no longer in force,[12] and that the Church no longer had objections to Freemasonry.

German Bishops Conference[edit]

In 1980, after years of study, including dialogue with Freemasons, the German Bishops Conference addressed this question, producing a report on Freemasonry listing twelve points and allegations.[13]

Among the allegations were that Freemasonry denies revelation[14] and objective truth.[15] They also alleged that religious indifference is fundamental to Freemasonry,[16] that Freemasonry is Deist,[17] and that it denies the possibility of divine revelation,[18] so threatening the respect due to the Church's teaching office.[19] The sacramental character of Masonic rituals was seen as signifying an individual transformation,[20] offering an alternative path to perfection[21] and having a total claim on the life of a member[22] It concludes by stating that all lodges are forbidden to Catholics,[23] including Catholic-friendly lodges[24] and that German Protestant churches were also suspicious of Freemasonry.[25]

Šeper's Clarification[edit]

In February 1981, under Cardinal Šeper, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a letter to the United States Bishops, entitled Clarification concerning status of Catholics becoming Freemasons which said the private letter of 1974, on becoming public, had "given rise to erroneous and tendentious interpretations."[10] The Clarification also affirmed that the prohibition against Catholics joining Masonic orders remained in effect.[10]

Revised Code of Canon Law[edit]

In 1983 the Church revised the Code of Canon Law. Unlike its predecessor, however, Canon 1374 does not explicitly name Masonic orders among the secret societies it condemns. It states:

"A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes office in such an association is to be punished with an interdict."

This omission caused some Catholics and Freemasons, especially in America, to believe that the ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons may have been lifted after all,[26] and caused confusion in the Church hierarchy.[27] Many Catholics joined the fraternity, basing their membership on a permissive interpretation of Canon Law and justifying their membership by their belief that Freemasonry does not plot against the Church.[28]

Declaration on Masonic Associations[edit]

In 1983, Prefect Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the personal approval of Pope John Paul II,[29] issued a Declaration on Masonic Associations, which reiterated the Church's objections to Freemasonry. The Declaration states:

"The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion...." and "...the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association(s) remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden."[29]

Continued ban after the Declaration[edit]

In the 1985, the U.S. Catholic Conference Bishops' Committee on Pastoral Research and Practices concluded in its Letter to U.S. Bishops Concerning Masonry that "the principles and basic rituals of Masonry embody a naturalistic religion, active participation in which is incompatible with Christian faith and practice."

On September 15, 2000, the Reverend Thomas Anslow, Judicial Vicar of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, wrote a letter to David Patterson, Executive Secretary of the Masonic Service Bureau of Los Angeles. In reply to the question "whether a practicing Catholic may join a Masonic Lodge" Father Anslow said that "at least for Catholics in the United States, I believe the answer is probably yes".[30] This letter was publicly retracted by Father Anslow on February 12, 2002, with the explanation that his analysis was faulty.[31] He said that Freemasonry fostered a "supraconfessional humanitarian" conception of the divine "that neutralizes or replaces the faith dimension of our relationship with God."[31]

On March 1, 2007, Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary made a statement that membership in Masonic organisations "remains forbidden" to Catholics and called on priests who had declared themselves to be Freemasons to be disciplined by their direct superiors.[32] It was in reaction to the declaration that the 85 year old priest Rosario Francesco Esposito had declared himself a Freemason even though he was once commissioned by the Church to study the Church’s teaching on masonry.[33]

See also[edit]

Further Reading (Scholarly External Links)[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, cited in Timeline of relations between the Roman Catholic church and the freemasons
  2. ^ page 51, The Freemasons: A History of the World's Most Powerful Secret Society, by Jasper Ridley
  3. ^ From the biography of Tommaso Crudeli on the website of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon
  4. ^ Carr's, "The Freemason at Work" cited in Timeline of relations between the Roman Catholic church and the freemasons
  5. ^ Text of In Eminenti, hosted on Grand Lodge British Columbia & Yukon website
  6. ^ Text of Humanum Genus hosted on the Vatican Website
  7. ^ "Those who join a Masonic sect or other societies of the same sort, which plot against the Church or against legitimate civil authority, incur ipso facto an excommunication simply reserved to the Holy See." Canon 2335, 1917 Code of Canon Law, quoted in Canon Law regarding Freemasonry, 1917-1983, excerpted from Canon Law, A Text and Commentary, by T. Lincoln Bouscaren, S.J. and Adam C. Ellis, S.J., hosted on the website of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, retrieved on 9 April
  8. ^ "Books which hold dueling, suicide or divorce licit, or which, treating of Masonic sects and other such societies, contend that they are useful and not harmful to the Church and civil society are forbidden", Section 8, Canon 1399, quoted in Canon Law regarding Freemasonry, 1917-1983, extracted from Canon Law, A Text and Commentary, Fourth Revised Edition, Bouscaren, Ellisand, Korth, 1963. Hosted on the website for the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, extracted 9 April 2006.
  9. ^ Note: The Index of Forbidden Books was abolished in 1966.
  10. ^ a b c Clarification concerning status of Catholics becoming Freemasons at EWTN.com. Retrieved 2011-10-16.
  11. ^ The Miter and The Trowel, by William G. Madison, [http://web.mit.edu/dryfoo/Masonry/ A page about Freemasonry
  12. ^ Cardinal Franjo Šeper, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a letter dated July 19, 1974, to John Cardinal Krol, which concluded that "Canon 2335 regards only those Catholics who join associations which plot against the Church." from The Pastoral Problem of Masonic Membership 1985 by William J Whalen, distributed by the American Bishop's Conference
  13. ^ From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network
  14. ^ "1. The Masonic World View. The Masons promote a freedom from dogmatic adherence to any one set of revealed truths. Such a subjective relativism is in direct conflict with the revealed truths of Christianity." From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network
  15. ^ "2. The Masonic Notion of Truth. The Masons deny the possibility of an objective truth, placing every truth instead in a relative context." From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network
  16. ^ "3. The Masonic Notion of Religion. Again, the Masonic teaching holds a relative notion of religions as all concurrently seeking the truth of the Absolute." From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network
  17. ^ "4. The Masonic Notion of God. The Masons hold a deistic notion of God which excludes any personal knowledge of the deity." From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network
  18. ^ "5. The Masonic Notion of God and Revelation. The deistic notion of God precludes the possibility of God’s self-revelation to humankind." From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network
  19. ^ "6. Masonic Toleration. The Masons promote a principle of toleration regarding ideas. That is, their relativism teaches them to be tolerant of ideas divergent or contrary to their own. Such a principle not only threatens the Catholic position of objective truth, but it also threatens the respect due to the Church’s teaching office." From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network.
  20. ^ "7. The Masonic Rituals. The rituals of the first three Masonic grades have a clear sacramental character about them, indicating that an actual transformation of some sort is undergone by those who participate in them." From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network
  21. ^ "8. The Perfection of Humankind. The Masonic rituals have as an end the perfection of mankind. But Masonry provides all that is necessary to achieve this perfection. Thus, the justification of a person through the work of Christ is not an essential or even necessary aspect of the struggle for perfection." From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network
  22. ^ "9. The Spirituality of the Masons. The Masonic Order makes a total claim on the life of the member. True adherence to the Christian faith is thereby jeopardized by the primary loyalty due the Masonic Order." From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network.
  23. ^ "10. The Diverse Divisions within the Masons. The Masons are organized into lodges with varying degrees of adherence to Christian teaching. Atheistic lodges are clearly incompatible with Catholicism. But even those lodges made up of Christian members seek merely to adapt Christianity to the overall Masonic world-view. This is unacceptable." From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network
  24. ^ "11. The Masons and the Catholic Church. Even those Catholic-friendly lodges that would welcome the Church’s members as its own are not compatible with Catholic teaching, and so closed to Catholic members." From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network
  25. ^ "12. The Masons and the Protestant Church. While a 1973 meeting of Protestant Churches determined that individual Protestants could decide whether to be members of both the Christian Church and the Freemasons, it included in its decision the caveat that those Christians must always take care not to lessen the necessity of grace in the justification of the person."" From "The Evolution of the Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry" by Msgr Ronny Jenkins in The Jurist, quoted in Free Masons by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on Eternal World Television Network.
  26. ^ "Some brethren and some Catholics believe that since the Second Ecumenical Council, which was conducted from 1962 to 1965 and is informally known as "Vatican II", the attitude of the church has been to regard Freemasonry as an acceptable sphere for fraternal interaction." From Roman Catholic Church Law Regarding Freemasonry by Reid McInvale, Texas Lodge of Research.
  27. ^ "Since many bishops stated in their reply to an earlier survey that confusion had been generated by a perceived change of approach by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" From Introduction to Letter of April 19, 1985 to U.S. Bishops Concerning Masonry
  28. ^ "In good faith many of these men had asked their pastors and/or bishops for permission to join the Lodge. Some converts were received into the Church during these years and were not asked to relinquish their Masonic affiliation." The Pastoral Problem of Masonic Membership, William Whalen, 1986.
  29. ^ a b Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 26 November 1983 Declaration on Masonic Associations at www.vatican.va. Retrieved 2011-10-20.
  30. ^ May Catholics Become Freemasons?
  31. ^ a b May a Roman Catholic join a Masonic lodge?
  32. ^ Regent Restates Vatican's Anti-Masonry Position, Zenit News Agency, 2007-03-02
  33. ^ Italian priest joins Masons - Catholic World News

Attribution[edit]