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The Catholic Church and the Masons in the Bulletin and other publications

Originally Appeared in : 9824-11/22/18
It is, of course, an old story. Members of my family often explained who the “Masons” were and why Catholics never joined that fraternal group. Neither my father, his brothers, or his Catholic co-workers could even consider becoming Masons. Why? The explanation was simple. They couldn’t become Masons without risking excommunication from the Catholic Church. Usually, the discussion went no further. Our parents were busy and, being average kids, we soon lost interest in the subject. Nevertheless, we were aware that we had non-Catholic relatives on our mother’s side of the family who certainly were Masons and proud of it.
 
I later learned that the problem with this fraternal group was its creed. Becoming a Mason meant taking on another religious creed — something the Catholic Church logically forbade. A tactful response to a reader’s query on the subject appeared in a very early issue of the Bulletin of the Catholic Laymen’s Association of Georgia (July 1, 1920). This carefully-worded editorial reply began: “There is so much in Masonry that is naturally beautiful,” before explaining that being a Mason meant, essentially, taking vows to another religion. If the Catholic Church condoned this, it would not be true to itself, the Bulletin writer noted. He further explained: “It would be as inconsistent as allowing its members to become Baptists, Unitarians or any other religion, because Free Masonry teaches religion and may even be considered a religion itself.”
 
Close to a century later, in 2006, in “Our Sunday Visitor,’” a weekly Catholic publication, writer Sandra Miesel, explained that the Church couldn’t espouse Freemasonry because the Masons still taught a rival religion based on naturalism and a denial of absolute truth. 
 
Over the years, the debate has continued in some quarters. May a practicing Catholic be a Mason? How would the Church respond to members who became Masons? Considered until the present day, Freemasonry is still cited as a society whose members swear a secret oath. By doing this, they are potentially in danger of excommunication. Information on the subject is easily available online. One site, “Catholic Quick Questions,” discusses it fully, referencing the 1917 Code of Canon law and the 1983 Code that confirmed that law. Pope (Saint) John Paul II gave his personal approval to the 1983 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s ruling that clearly stated that practicing Catholics could not be both Catholics and Masons.
 
The history of Free Masonry goes back to ancient times. In the beginning, it was a guild of skilled craftsmen. Later, it evolved into a fraternal organization that, in some countries, had as one of its goals the demise of the Catholic faith. Secret oaths its members currently take are considered to be incompatible with Catholic teachings.  
 
A current online site, “Catholic Quick Questions,” attempts to answer such questions, noting that Freemasonry still espouses a natural religion that indicates that all religions are equal, and that it doesn’t matter which you belong to. Largely social in a way, the Masonic group, nevertheless, still features altars, its own prayers and moral code, and various rituals – including burial rites.
 
It now appears that the Church’s views on Freemasonry weren’t completely understood by many Catholics in the past.. A doctrinal statement, the CDF Declaration of Masonic Associations (1983 CIC), did attempt, however, to clarify the Catholic Church’s position regarding membership in a Masonic Lodge by reiterating the Catholic Church’s stance more clearly. Because Freemasonry’s codes continue to include “a deistic God” as well as naturalism and “religious indifferentism,” a Catholic’s taking an oath to it is still forbidden by the Church. Becoming a member of the Catholic Knights of Columbus organization has been suggested as an appropriate option for Catholics seeking fellowship and involvement in good works in their community. 
 
Columnist Rita H. Delorme is a volunteer in the Diocesan Archives.
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