Can Catholics also be Masons?

The question repeatedly arises, and the answer is still no, a Vatican official reminded participants at a recent conference on Freemasonry.

The worldwide fraternal group certainly accomplishes impressive charitable works, as its 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children attest.

But Freemasonry’s core philosophy is incompatible with the Catholic faith, noted Bishop Gianfranco Girotti at a forum on the issue at Rome’s St. Bonaventure Pontifical Theological Faculty, Zenit news reported.

Bishop Girotti, regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, quoted the 1983 “Declaration on Masonic Associations,” signed by then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The text states that since the principles of Masonic associations “have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church,” membership in them, therefore, “remains forbidden.”

Masonry’s philosophy is based on relativism, explained Father Paul Robinson, judicial vicar of the Fall River diocesan tribunal.

The main discrepancy regards the question of truth, said Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum University, in an earlier Zenit report.

“Masonry requires that its members adhere to a minimal belief in a supreme architect of the universe and leave aside all other pretensions of truth, even revealed truth,” he said. This basically means that Masonry requires members to renounce truths such as Christ’s divinity and the Trinitarian nature of God.

“A Catholic cannot ignore the fundamental principles behind an organization, no matter how innocuous its activities appear to be,” Father McNamara noted.

Father Robinson said he believes most American Masons join for fraternal reasons, although in Europe, the group is “a different animal.”

Particularly in Europe and Mexico, Masonry has a record of anti-Catholicism.

In Mexico anti-clerical policies were enforced from 1928 to 2000 by the Masonic-dominated political party. The Church could not own schools or communications media, and priests and religious could not vote.

Mexican bishops recently announced their intention to regain these rights. This prompted the Grand Lodge of the Valley of Mexico to accuse the Church of trying to control politics, according to an Aug. 9 Catholic News Agency report.

The Lodge’s Great Teacher Pedro Marquez complained, “The Catholic hierarchy wants to dictate a political policy and that is a very grave error, as our society is no longer in the era of Christianity and priests are no longer viceroys of New Spain.”

Zenit reported that during the Rome conference, Franciscan Father Zbigniew Suchecki, an expert on the subject, referred to number 1374 of the Code of Canon Law: “Whoever is inscribed in an association that plots against the Church must be punished with a just penalty; whoever promotes or directs that association, must be banned.”

Adds the declaration signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, “The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive holy Communion.”

Apparently there are more than a few clergy unclear on the issue.

In a book released by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, author John Salza explains how as a lifelong Catholic, he was initiated into Wisconsin’s Masonic Lodge.

Although attracted by its camaraderie and philanthropy, he became increasingly troubled by its philosophy. His parish priest was unaware of any prohibition against joining.

Finally, Salza became more literate in his own faith, and found theologians who showed him the light. In “Masonry Unmasked: An Insider Reveals the Secrets of the Lodge,” he gives a Catholic perspective.

Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz made the issue clear in his Nebraska diocese in 1996. He forbid Catholics there to belong to Freemasons and 11 other groups whose goals were “perilous to the Catholic faith.”

Among the groups were Planned Parenthood, the Hemlock Society, and three groups affiliated with the Masons: DeMolay and Rainbow Girls for youth, and the Order of the Eastern Star for women.

Bishop Bruskewitz gave members a month to renounce their membership and seek reconciliation. Those who remained members after that were forbidden to receive holy Communion; their actions constituted grounds for excommunication, his order read.

The dissident group Call to Action protested the order to Rome, which in 2006 upheld the bishop’s ruling.

There are nearly 5 million Masons worldwide, according to the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts. Within the state, there are 236 lodges, some sharing the same building.

Father Roger Landry, pastor of St. Anthony’s in New Bedford and executive editor of the Fall River Diocesan paper The Anchor, said he’s approached a few times a year by Catholics asking whether it’s possible to become Masons.

“In Europe, the anti-Catholicism of the Masons has been and remains much more overt. Here in the United States, while many individual Masons would not be anti-Catholic, the institutional position of the organization they belong to is. Faithful Catholics for obvious reasons should not join an anti-Catholic organization.”

Father Timothy Goldrick, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in North Dighton, said he has been asked about membership in Masonic youth groups, and always advises against it.

“I am aware of the animosity of the Masons towards all things Catholic (and even Christian), especially with our essential doctrine of the resurrection of the dead,” he said. “Since membership in the Masons is in decline, a recruitment drive is underway. I expect to be asked more questions about the possibility of membership.”