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Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Retired Catholic Priest Admits Masonic Membership; Catholic Press Goes Wild



by Christopher Hodapp

The eternal bad patch between Freemasonry and Roman Catholicism is currently tramping its merry way across Australia and the Intertubz, giving whole new audiences a ringside seat to the clobbering that has remained unresolved for almost 300 years.

Fr. Kerry Costigan

Earlier this year, Father Kerry Costigan (retired) of the delightfully named Toowoomba Diocese in Queensland, Australia, published a story in the equally delightfully named Catholic quarterly (I kid you not) The Swag - the magazine of the National Council of Priests in Australia. In the article entitled Freemasonry and the Catholic Church, Fr. Costigan just blurted out right there in front of God and everybody that he was a proud Catholic Freemason, a member of Ashlar Lodge in Oakey, that he had been for ten years, and that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference gave its approval for Catholics to become members of Australian Freemasonry back in 2016. He became a Freemason while he was still working as a priest.

To coin a particularly hackneyed exclamation first popularized by Isabelle Sanford in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, 'All hell done broke loose now.'


Regrettably, the original article is hidden behind The Swag’s paywall, and I’m disinclined to part with my household’s hard-scrounged pelf for the sole purpose of satisfying my own curiosity about Brother Father Costigan’s essay. What I’d do with another eleven months of Swag, I have no idea. But there’s no reason to doubt his veracity in making this claim. Even as a now-retired priest, he undoubtedly realized that the weighty brickbats and indignant howls of strict canonical adherents to Papal edicts would be hurling his way ever since the article hit the aether.

Since June, a negative article written by Kathy Clubb has been widely reprinted and circulated (“Priest Claims Catholic Bishops Approved Australian Freemasonry.” See it here on The Remnant website - there must have been a dearth of punchy magazine names in the world in 1967 when it was founded). In it, she synopsizes Fr. Costigan’s account, so I will excerpt her telling of it:

Fr. Costigan’s article begins by relating how parishioners at a Church where he was about to celebrate Mass left copies of Pope Leo XIII's Encyclical on Freemasonry in the building’s foyer. He then goes on to explain that, in his opinion, Australian Freemasonry differs from that found in Europe, since it is less sectarian and political.
That article states several times that Freemasonry is not a 'single, united body', but that each lodge has its own supreme authority and is the sole authority over its members.
Fr. Costigan points to a change in the character of Freemasonry after the Reformation, and suggests that its current form was established during the 18th century, when it lost its sectarian and political nature. He then cites an oft-repeated tale of a 19th century French journalist whom Masons claim is the source of their bad publicity. The journalist, Leo Taxil, earned notoriety for initially exposing Freemasonry as being satanic, but later recanted and claimed that the whole episode was aimed at mocking the Church. Clearly, this explanation doesn't account for the fact that the first papal encyclical condemning Masonry was written 150 years before Taxil was on the scene.
At this point, the article becomes a bit sketchy: Fr. Costigan claims that in 1984, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference began an inquiry into Australian Freemasonry. Fr. Costigan opines that the reason no conclusion was published was due to there being no conflict between Catholicism and Masonry. He admits that this contradicts the Vatican's policy on Freemasonry in other countries, but fails to mention that the prohibition does, in fact, apply world-wide.
The priest goes on to say that in 2016, Catholic Freemasons contacted the Australian bishops to clarify their status. At that time, Catholic men were said to be the Grand Masters of the Western Australian, Queensland and South Australian/Northern Territory lodges. The Grand Master of SA/NT prepared a submission for the bishops and asked for an authoritative judgement from them. The ACBC's secretary is said to have then requested a combined submission from the Grand Masters of all Australian lodges, which was to include information on the basic ideals and principles of Australian Freemasonry.
According to Fr. Costigan, the Australian Catholic Bishops, via their secretary, then replied that "any Catholic man may join Freemasonry as it exists in Australia as long as his conscience agrees." Fr Costigan added that "the reply also asked that membership in the Craft was to be carried out discreetly and without publicity," and he surmised that this call for discretion was due to Masonry's prohibition overseas.
Fr. Costigan ends his article by thanking the bishops for their pastoral approach, with the hope that their statement will soon be made public. (One wonders how an article appearing in a national newsletter could not be deemed public!) He stated that Australian Catholic Masons 'have been condemned unjustly by the blanket condemnation of all Freemasonry' and concluded with the somewhat blasphemous "May God prosper in the Craft."
All a fair enough accounting of things to that point. Fr. Costigan certainly hasn’t been hiding his Masonic membership under a bucket for the last decade. In fact, it has caused quite a furore among what are known as “traditional Catholic” circles from the very start. And this brouhaha in print is a small illustration of the two main warring forces within Roman Catholicism that (like everything else these days) pit extremely liberal and extremely conservative viewpoints against each other.

The trail of this specific Australian controversy rages all the way into the 1990s. Eight years ago, an Australian Catholic newsletter called The Lepanto reprinted a 1998 story by Glenis Green:
”Hundreds of Queensland Catholics are now also committed Freemasons, with at least ‘a few’ occupying leading roles in the church, masonic leaders have revealed. And in a major breakdown of age-old barriers, at least one Catholic parish has held a service for more than 100 Oddfellows [sic] Lodge members…United Grand Lodge of Queensland communications manager Charles Luckman confirmed “lots” of members of the Catholic Church and other churches also were members of masonic associations, with some holding positions as active clergy.”
She went on to declare that the claim originally came from Most Worshipful Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Queensland, Bill Roache, who said that “about 1,000 members of the craft were also Catholics.”

(MW William H. Roache served as GM of Queensland in 1992, so that’s at least how far back these folks are going to dredge up quotes.)

I hate to break it to the tremulous readers of The Remnant because they are already up in arms. But two recent polls of current members in the U.S. revealed that between 18-20% of American Freemasons declare themselves to be Catholics. That’s about 22,000, give or take, in the U.S. alone. And that doesn’t even count the majority of Filipino Freemasons, or the Masons throughout Central and South America who are overwhelmingly Catholics. Masonic grand lodges don’t really know for sure, because we never ask our members for their specific brand of religious faith when they join the fraternity. 

Because it’s none of our business, as long as they have faith to begin with. 

And that’s what’s really at the heart of the great Freemason/Catholic debate. The Church believes we are aping a religious service in our lodges because we have an open Bible, candles, pedagogical rituals, and we pray during the meetings. They also claim that Freemasonry espouses a means of eternal salvation based on good works alone, and that because we have no specific religious test and we don’t permit open proselytizing or “witnessing” in open lodge, we must ergo be anti-Christian in general, and anti-Catholic in particular. How they decide that what goes on in a Masonic lodge in any way “denies Christ,” I have no idea. It’s a curious bit of circular logic because we simply don’t permit religious or political discussions in lodge meetings. Freemasonry sees this as being as religiously tolerant as you’ll ever find in a secular, faith-requisite organization, while the Church sees it as TOO tolerant of all of the wrong kinds of believers.

Self-described “traditional” Catholics, when they fall into the most militant basket, have essentially believed the Vatican-based Roman Catholic Church hasn’t been the kosher Catholic Church ever since the Vatican II Council ended in 1967 with a wide range of changes and reforms. When they get up a full head of steam, they say that Pope Pius IX introduced heretical changes into the Church, and they’re still lathered up over it after a half century. Meanwhile, over in the “liberal” wing, they feel like the Church still hasn’t unbuttoned enough of its blouse to suit their taste, and they are pushing for married priests, ordination of women, endorsement of gay marriage, free condoms for everybody, and a totally ecumenical approach to the world’s other religions. The traditionals believe in the primacy of pre-1967 Catholicism, and everybody else is just plain wrong; the liberals want more of a dog/cat/canary, we’re okay - you’re okay sort of laissez faire approach to everybody. These two opposing, flapping wings have been duking it out since before the summer of the original Woodstock. And with a wingspan that wide, it’s the size of the sort of prehistoric pterodactyl that used to inhabit bad Japanese rubber monster movies.

Catholic Freemasons are caught somewhere in between.

Ever since Ms. Clubb’s exposée appeared, the bumpy country road that leads from hee to haw has been remarkably scenic. Self-proclaimed Catholic experts from Perth to Pittsburgh and all points everywhere have inveighed against Fr. Costigan’s ‘heresy’ and called for him to be dragged back out of retirement just so they can demand his public disenfrocking and consignment to the flames—or something. Shrieks of horror, sodden with Taxil Hoax quotes, invocations of Luciferianism, and fevered rattling of the bones of Albert Pike have burbled into chat rooms and comment sections of indignant Catholic newsletters and online publications now for two months. One almost expects the ghost of Diana Vaughan to make a magical appearance any second now to describe the ritual beheadings and blood-lettings in the stated meetings of Queensland’s brethren.

The problem has always been that Catholic Masons have been ignoring the 18th and 19th century bulls and edicts against Masonic membership from the start, and they always will.

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