"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Vatican Reaffirms Ban On Masonic Membership: Catholic Masons Shrug

by Christopher Hodapp

(This story has been slightly updated 11/16/23 12:56PM to include an excerpt from the Vatican News explaining the origin of the DDF's position on Masonry.)

The Roman Catholic Church has officially issued a doctrinal letter this week re-affirming its longstanding ban on Masonic membership among its global flock, but Catholic Masons pretty much remain unmoved by the restriction.

In the letter released by the Vatican's Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) dated November 13th and signed by Pope Francis and DDF Prefect Cardinal Victor Fernández, it is stated that "Active membership in Freemasonry by a member of the faithful is prohibited, because of the irreconcilability between Catholic doctrine and Freemasonry." 

The Rome headquarters of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (Photo: Vatican News)

The DDF is responsible for interpreting the Church's Canon Law when questions and disagreements arise over the application of the rules.

According to official Vatican state media, the letter was a response to a bishop from the Philippines who was alarmed by what he sees as a growing number of Freemasons in that predominantly Catholic country, and wanted to know how to respond pastorally. The DDF statement cites a 1983 declaration, originally issued by the late Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time, stating that Catholics "in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion." 

The November 1983 declaration was published shortly before the new Code of Canon Law entered into force. The 1983 CIC replaced the Code of Canon Law published in 1917; among the new features noted – by some with satisfaction, by others with concern – was the absence of an explicit condemnation of Freemasonry and excommunication for those affiliated with it. Both had been present in the earlier Code. The Declaration, signed by the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the Secretary of the Congregation, Archbishop Jérôme Hamer, and approved by John Paul II, reiterated that Catholics affiliated with Masonic lodges are “in a state of grave sin.”

Ratzinger would go on to become Pope Benedict XVI, who was widely regarded as extremely conservative in his views. But according to this new communication, it appears that sentiments haven't changed in the Curia.

Click to enlarge

The letter states that:

“Membership in Freemasonry is very significant in the Philippines; it involves not only those who are formally enrolled in Masonic Lodges but, more generally, a large number of sympathizers and associates who are personally convinced that there is no opposition between membership in the Catholic Church and in Masonic Lodges . . . On the doctrinal level, it should be remembered that active membership in Freemasonry by a member of the faithful is forbidden because of the irreconcilability between Catholic doctrine and Freemasonry.”

That the famously liberal Pope Francis would now reaffirm his predecessor's opinion on Masonic membership some 40 years after Ratzinger's weighing in on the matter is an exceptionally disappointing blow to the hundreds of thousands of Catholic men around the world who are Masons and who don't regard the fraternity as irreconcilable with their faith in any way. 

By contrast, the same office said last week that transgender people can be baptized, serve as godparents and act as witnesses at Catholic weddings. The two issues aren't at all related, but Vatican watchers have long conjectured that Pope Francis would make dramatic changes to Canon Law like permitting married priests and nuns, homosexual weddings and other radical alterations to the rules and traditions of the Church. For him to stick with the ban on Masonic membership, of all things, seems out of character for him.

Freemasonry was first condemned by Pope Clement XII back in 1734, just 17 years after the formation of the Premiere Grand Lodge of England. For another 200 years Popes continued to issue papal bulls and encyclicals against the fraternity, sometimes more from a political power viewpoint than a religious one. Language specifically forbidding Freemasonry to Catholics (along with Kiwanis, Rotary and other associative fraternal organizations with secular memberships) was enshrined as a part of Canon Law from 1917 until the enormous revisions of the Second Vatican Council were adopted by 1965. The Church wrongly asserts that Freemasonry is its own "naturalistic religion" that promotes "indifferentism," and that its rituals deliberately ape religious ceremonies and offers a path to eternal salvation through a doctrine of merely doing good works on Earth. It regards Masonic use of the term "Great Architect of the Universe" as a deistic concept and opposes any notion that a person can be pleasing to God regardless of his religion. It's not an unusual position for any large denomination to take to protect its spiritual turf rights by claiming its path is the only way to salvation, but  it's a woefully mistaken interpretation of what the rituals of regular, recognized "Ancient Craft Masonry" actually say.

The Vatican II revisions of the 1960s stripped out the specific names of groups that had been ruled off limits in 1917, and just generically banned groups that actively were anti-Catholic. While French-derived "continental Freemasonry" really has espoused anti-Catholic sentiments and actively promoted "free will" and lobbied for strict secularism in France's national laws, such Masonic groups are shunned as "irregular" by English/Scottish-derived grand lodges that make up the vast majority of what is called "regular, recognized" Freemasonry all over the world today. In addition, the Scottish Rite "higher degrees" that first came out of France in the 1700s and were revised in the U.S. by Albert Pike in the late 1800s did contain a Knights Kadosh ritual that condemned both monarchial and papal "tyranny" which were seen as interfering with free will in men. Such a point of view hardly convinced the Church's authorities to ever look kindly on the fraternity.

A March 28, 2023 article on the Union of Catholic Asian News website reported on the Masonic questions coming out of the Philippines: 

“We thought the Catholic Church’s teachings have changed. Since several participants in the synod were Freemasons, we thought the Church has relaxed the rules on its membership and its participation in activities of the Catholic Church,” Quezon City parishioner Gloria Buencamino, 43, told UCA News on March 26.

Buencamino claimed some “extraordinary” ministers who helped the priest distribute communion during Mass in their parish were also Freemasons.

“In our parish alone, we have two of them and they were delegates to the Synod on Synodality. They are good and pious Catholics. Personally, I was surprised to see the CBCP has released the pastoral guidelines,” Buencamino added.

But the bishops’ commission clarified that “nothing has changed” and asserted that those joining Masonry will incur canonical penalties.

“Yet, given the sensitivity and delicateness of the issue in the Philippine setting, it has also shown ‘openness,’ in the exercise of pastoral circumspection, towards Catholics who may have unwittingly in good faith sought membership in Masonic associations with the best of intentions,” said the commission chairman, Bishop Jose R. Rojas of Libmanan.

It should be understood that Masonic grand lodges don't ban Catholics from joining - the restriction has always been a one-way street. Masonic membership only requires a man have a belief in God or a Supreme Being, and perhaps an associated belief in a spiritual afterlife (depending on the jurisdiction – each grand lodge jurisdiction can be slightly different). No one should be asking you your specific religious denomination as part of the petitioning process, apart from being able to accommodate your religious requirements when our ceremonies involve an obligation taken on a volume of sacred law that's specific to your beliefs. A lodge isn't a church, and your private beliefs regarding your personal relationship with the Almighty are seen as just that – private.

Because of that policy, lodges and grand lodges don't keep records and statistics tabulating the specific religious practices and denominations of their members, but recent voluntary polling shows that as many as 23% of U.S. Masons may be Catholic. If true, that works out to about 230,000 Catholic Masons in America alone. And if that holds true globally (just making a supposition), there may be a million or more Catholic Masons worldwide. In countries where the Catholic population is much higher than in the U.S. (as in Central and South American nations and the Philippines) the percentages are most probably even higher. Obviously, these men aren't letting their church get away with telling them their fraternity is irreconcilable with their faith when they know that to be demonstrably false. Quite the opposite — Freemasonry encourages each Mason to study and support his own religious institution and its traditions as part of a well-rounded individual, while respecting the personal beliefs of others. 

Oddly enough, Pope Francis issued an encyclical just last year called Fratelli Tutti ("All Brothers") which called on the world's political and religious leaders to create a new, ecumenical, "universal brotherhood" to help overcome Mankind's differences. 

Some excerpts included:

Paragraph #6. It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Fraternity between all men and women. “Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together”. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.

Paragraph #8. “It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity.”

Paragraph #46. We should also recognize that destructive forms of fanaticism are at times found among religious believers, including Christians; they too “can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned”. How can this contribute to the fraternity that our common Father asks of us?

Paragraph #95. “Love also impels us towards universal communion. No one can mature or find fulfillment by withdrawing from others. By its very nature, love calls for growth in openness and the ability to accept others as part of a continuing adventure that makes every periphery converge in a greater sense of mutual belonging. As Jesus told us: “You are all brothers” (Mt 23:8).

Paragraph #254. “I ask God to prepare our hearts to encounter our brothers and sisters, so that we may overcome our differences rooted in political thinking, language, culture and religion. Let us ask him to anoint our whole being with the balm of his mercy, which heals the injuries caused by mistakes, misunderstandings and disputes. And let us ask him for the grace to send us forth, in humility and meekness, seeking peace.” 

Paragraph #272. “As believers, we are convinced that, without an openness to the Father of all, there will be no solid and stable reasons for an appeal to fraternity. We are certain that “only with this awareness that we are not orphans, but children, can we live in peace with one another”. For “reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity”.

Paragraph #277. “The Church esteems the ways in which God works in other religions, and “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for their manner of life and conduct, their precepts and doctrines which… often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women.”

Paragraph #281. “A journey of peace is possible between religions. Its point of departure must be God’s way of seeing things. God does not see with his eyes, God sees with his heart. And God’s love is the same for everyone, regardless of religion. Even if they are atheists, his love is the same. When the last day comes, and there is sufficient light to see things as they really are, we are going to find ourselves quite surprised.” 

Paragraph #287. “He [Christ] wanted to be, in the end, “the universal brother” … May God inspire that dream in each one of us. Amen.”

To Catholic Freemasons around the world last year, such a proposed ecumenical assembly sounded mighty familiar, and many held out hope that this pontiff would finally drop restrictions on their already-existing "universal brotherhood." But obviously not. Of course, to the 'Militant Catholics' wing within the Church that has hated Francis from the day he was elected, last year's encyclical was clear proof to them that he's really a not-so-secret Jesuit Freemason anti-pope out to destroy the Vatican from within. Or something.

Of course, there's so much anti-Francis sentiment among traditional Catholics around the world, it's possible this anti-Masonic statement was nothing more than damage control on his part. In any case, Pope Francis' agreement with the anti-Masonic position is not a hopeful one for Catholic Masons who want the Church to loosen its stiff-necked rules on the subject. Telling Catholics the world over that they can't belong the largest, oldest, and best known fraternal organization that does exactly what the "universal brotherhood" Francis described last year just is not going to have the effect Rome is hoping for. But most Catholic Masons don't seem to be losing much sleep over it. 

Myself? I sleep like a baby.

Amen in aeternum.


  1. I'm a Catholic Mason. Nobody in the church except for the hyper devout care about that stuff. In South America basically ALL masons are Catholic, to say nothing of Masons in Spain, Italy, or anywhere else in Southern Europe. I suspect this includes a lot of Africa as well.

    We just don't care.

  2. It just saddens me that the Church is forcing me to choose between the Church and the organization that prompted me to join the Church.

    Freemasonry heavily impacted my decision to become a Catholic after being a Freemason for several years. Freemasonry opened my eyes to the Church's amazing history, beauty, and enduring unity, and after bouncing through many denominations, each of which ultimately thrives on disunity and discord, I finally feel "at home" in the Catholic Church.

    While I absolutely understand the historical reasoning for the Catholic Church's condemnation of Freemasonry, the reality is that times have changed, particularly in the United States, and Freemasonry simply is not at odds with the Church as it once was.

    When I went through RCIA, I asked our Priest his thoughts on Freemasonry, and he stated that he had no real opinion other than if it didn't impede my belief in Christ and my participation as a Catholic, he saw no reason not to be a member. Then we got a new Priest who associates himself with many who deal in the occult and exorcisms. He publically states that if you are a Freemason, you are responsible for and accountable to a multi-generational curse in your family, so you must repent and renounce all affiliation with Freemasonry. I've obviously keep my membership to myself.

    1. Honestly, if faced with a parish priest who is that unhinged, I'd find another at least until he gets cycled out.

      As for this most recent pronouncement out of Rome, there's a paraphrase of an old Russian proverb: God is high and Rome is far away. There have been many reasons for clashes between Masons and Popes for 300 years, and most have little to do with Man's salvation. For almost 70 years there have been strong voices within the Church (including members of clergy) who have tried to convince successive Popes that regular, recognized Freemasonry is not a threat of any kind to the Church, to the primacy of the Pope, to the individual Catholic or his soul. But the entrenched bureaucracy within the Vatican (and if ever there was a "deep state", it's there) has its own power structure and agenda that maintains Masonry is satanic. They believed everything Leo Taxil ever wrote, and nothing will convince them that Masonry ENCOURAGES its members to support their church. So Popes will come and go, but the Anti-Masons will long remain in place.

  3. Regarding Pope Francis' encyclical, while it may sound "mighty familiar", consider that it is something that HE put forth within the framework of the Catholic Church that HE oversees. It would be like a Liberal putting forth a fiscally conservative plan and being praised because it came from HIM--never mind the decades of Conservative push for the same.

  4. There are of course other religions that forbid membership in the Craft -- some large Lutheran bodies for example. One needs to add that Masonic bodies like the Grand Orient in France do not proscribe belief in a diety: ...in fact the Grand Orient has lodges working the Emulation rite. It is true that many of its lodges simply dropped the belief as a requirement and the majority of its lodges today do not invoke it. As for the historic assertion that the failure to insist on it caused the split between Anglo and French masonry, another reason worth further research is the acceptance by French masonry at that time of men of color while numerous Anglo lodges would not accept them until very recently. A subsidiary discussion has been whether the Supreme Being ruled out Hindus because they were not monotheists, which led to discussion of some Christian sects that treat the Trinity as more three individuals than three in one, which echoes the Catholic references to Masonry as deistic.

  5. In fairness, in understanding the Pope's reaffirmation regarding Masonry, in some instances the term Supreme Architect was an Enlightenment phrase used by opponents of the Christian Triune God, so the view of the Roman Catholic Church he just reaffirmed is not as prejudiced historically as it might appear -- it reflects a basic doctrinal position about the nature of God that he is of course protecting.

  6. I really do wonder if this is throwing right wing Catholics a bone after recent more liberal decisions. The pope may well know the decision will be largely ignored.

  7. Brother Carlo NepomucenoSun Nov 19, 02:50:00 PM 2023

    The Catholic Church's ban on Freemasonry is rooted in historical concerns about secrecy, perceived anti-religious sentiments, and the influence of Enlightenment ideas. However, as society evolves, there is a growing need to reevaluate these concerns in light of contemporary perspectives on religious freedom and tolerance. By fostering dialogue and understanding, the Catholic Church and Freemasonry may find ways to coexist, allowing individuals the freedom to explore and engage with organizations that align with their personal beliefs.


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