Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

30 October 2005

Freemasonry and the Catholic Church

For about the fifth or sixth time I have been asked my view on Freemasonry and the Catholic Church. First, I am no better a Mason than I am a Catholic. Second, I am neither a lawyer nor a canonist. I have no special skill at understanding all of this material other than being deeply interested. With those issues aside, this is an answer I wrote to a Past Grand Master who asked my view on the matter for a candidate who wanted to petition the lodge, but was worried about being a good Catholic. Though I have little doubt that people on all sides will be offended by my conclusion, at least it has the benefit of being honest.
[Since I first wrote this in 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger has become Pope Benedict XVI.]

Just so trust in me is not essential, you can obtain an excellent, if slightly paranoid, summary of the orthodox view from "Freemasonry: mankind's hidden enemy" by Bro. Charles Madden, O.F.M. Conv. ("Bro" hear means religious brother). The small book is very useful as it provides not just the author's opinion, but also the full text of various decisions and position statements.

When the Canon was revised and published in 1983, the explicit prohibition against Masonic association was dropped. The canon in question is 1374

Can. 1374 A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; however, a person who promotes or directs an association of this kind is to be punished with an interdict.


An interdict bans a Catholic from receiving the Sacraments, including a Christian burial. You may still confess and received a funeral Mass, which is what differentiates an interdict from an excommunication. An excommunicated person may only return to the Church with the express permission of the Bishop of his Diocese or by any pastor in the case of impending death.


Catholics had already started joining Masonry in greater numbers during the 1970s, and he dropping of Freemasonry from the Canon appeared to pave the way for even more Catholics to join. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the official interpreter of legal and doctrinal issues for Catholics, released this statement in response:


It has been asked whether there has been any change in the Church’s decision in regard to Masonic associations since the new Code of Canon Law does not mention them expressly, unlike the previous Code.

This Sacred Congregation is in a position to reply that this circumstance in due to an editorial criterion which was followed also in the case of other associations likewise unmentioned inasmuch as they are contained in wider categories.

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

It is not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authorities to give a judgment on the nature of Masonic associations which would imply a derogation from what has been decided above, and this in line with the Declaration of this Sacred Congregation issued on 17 February 1981 (cf. AAS 73 1981 pp. 240-241; English language edition of L’Osservatore Romano, 9 March 1981).

In an audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II approved and ordered the publication of this Declaration which had been decided in an ordinary meeting of this Sacred Congregation.

Rome, from the Office of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 26 November 1983.

Joseph Card. RATZINGER

+ Fr. Jerome Hamer, O.P.
Titular Archbishop of Lorium



It is important to note that when Cardinal Ratzinger was a Bishop in Germany he participated in a study panel which condemned Masonry based largely on the explicit prohibition of the 1917 Canon.

You can see the formal position of the Church is quite severe, so you might ask why there is any question at all? According to the Catholic doctrine "odios a restringenda, favorabilia extenda" (English, favorable laws are to be interpreted broadly and odious laws are to be interpreted strictly), this muddies the water considerably. A strict interpretation of the Canon requires a provable plotting against the Church for a man to be interdicted. That is the key point on which the entire debate regarding Masonic associations for Catholics hinges.

Here is the United States, Freemasonry in no way plots against anyone, though the same cannot necessarily be said for Freemasonry in Italy or France, where some lodges probably do actively plot. The Grand Lodges of England and America began serious discussions with Archbishops and members of the Congregations in Rome to try and create a distinction between the violators of 1374 and the rest of the Craft.

When the US National Conference of Catholic Bishops gathered to try and figure out whether Freemasonry in the United States was like its Italian variant, the Knights of the Immaculata popped up on the committee which studied the Craft and wrote the position paper for the USNCCB. This document is only about twenty printed pages and merits a read. A copy can be read online here:


This seems to be really bad news, until you see who the Knights of the Immaculata are. To set the stage, read what St. Maximillian Kolbe had to say about Freemasonry in 1939:

The Freemasons follow this principle above all: 'Catholicism can be overcome not
by logical argument but by corrupted morals.' And so they overwhelm the souls of
men with the kind of literature and arts that will most easily destroy a sense of chaste
morals, and they foster sordid lifestyles in all phases of human life...

St. Kolbe founded the order of the Knights of the Immaculata, so you can see they had an agenda before they took part in the USNCCB subcommittee. The document, in my view, wanders around quite a lot and makes only a single, salient point. The penalty portion of the obligation may indeed deserve to be removed entirely, and some US Masonic jurisdictions have already started the process by adding the word "symbolic." I suspect the penalty clause will be eliminated all across the US before I die. The Bishops were divided on the content of the document, but a majority of them did accept it.

In 1996, Bishop Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska issued a blanket excommunication against Freemasons and members of twelve other groups. It is worth the time to look the list and try to imagine what they have to do with each other. Are members of Planned Parenthood really morally equal to Rainbow Girls? The fact of the matter is that children may never be excommunicated because they "have not obtained the full use of reason." The other problem is that, as we noted before, interdict and excommunication are not the same at all, so Bishop Bruskewitz was promoting the gravity of the crime quite severely. This action lead other Bishops to say explicitly members of these associations were not to be excommunicated in their Diocese, a clear split.

Yet, with all this in mind the previous Bishop of the Diocese of Portland, Bishop Joseph Gerry, gave a speech to the Maine Lodge of Research about four years ago (in 2000), in a meeting held at the Grand Lodge of Maine. In the talk he indicated that he hoped for a detente between Freemasonry and the Church. His Chancellor participated in a committee with members of the Craft which found no conflict between Freemasonry, as practiced in Maine, and the principles of the Church. This is a non-binding opinion, but it most certainly opened the path for many more Catholics in Maine to become Freemasons.

I think it is clear the Church in the United States is divided on the issue. Whether Masonry plots against the Church is an open question. I believe the answer, here in the US, is a clear and definitive 'no.' Armed with that information and a strict interpretation, no interdict is deserved for Catholic Masons in the US.

With all this in mind, what is my feeling? When I was Master, if a Catholic petitioned, then I required the Investigating Committee to warn them of the rules of Canon Law and the possibility of a conservative Bishop or Pastor enforcing an interdict. As a bystander, I speak with the Master first, but in the end I make sure I talk to the candidate to warn them to look into the issue and speak with their confessor.

I was a deeply lapsed Catholic when I became a Mason about eight years ago. It was the Masonic ritual which really reawakened my spiritual side and lead me to eventually return to the Church. In 2001, shortly before taking the last step on the road to Master of Deering Lodge, I made a special appointment with my confessor. I explicitly confessed to my Masonic association and asked for his guidance including my willingness to leave the lodge if he felt I should. I answered all his questions quite fully; it remains my steadfast belief that confession (reconciliation) is a more important duty than any recreational oath of secrecy. He, in the past, had found no problem with Freemasonry, and did not see any reason for me to leave. If I ever found the lodge did plot against the Church, then I was under an obligation to resign from it. He did not see that such things occurred here in the US. I have since been very active in the lodge and in my parish, and never found anything in Masonry at odds with Catholicism.

In the end, I am willing to take the risk of being a Mason. If Masonry in Maine starts plotting against the Church, then I will leave it the very day. If Masonry ever tries to force me to do something contrary to my conscience, then I will leave it that very day. The day I finally die and appear before St. Peter my name may or may not be written in the Book of Life, however, I do not believe for an instant that the thing which sends me to eternal torment will be my doubt about whether Cardinal Ratzinger is right about Masonry plotting against the Church.

Finally, just to give you a point to meditate on. If M.W. Bro. X wanted to plot against the Church and lure you away to depravity, as the Knights of the Immaculata fear, then he would have asked another Mason to answer your inquiry. He knows I take the rules of my faith seriously and have thought a great deal about the issue. He would have asked someone who he knew would say "no problem at all." Instead, he came to me and he probably did know I would close with this statement:

Read what I have said, think about it, but before you submit your petition talk to your pastor.


At 21 December, 2005 12:08 , Blogger Garrett said...

Oh, beautifully written, Brother. It clarifies some doubts that I've been having lately, especially as I volunteer to edit the Freemasonry (and Knights of Columbus) articles at the Wikipedia, which are frequently a source of conflict.

At 20 January, 2006 11:06 , Blogger John said...

Well met Brother Ratcliff, from another Brother Ratcliff!

At 15 March, 2006 01:04 , Anonymous Stephen said...

I sincerely thank you, Brother Ratliff, for your well-thought piece on the question of whether "good Catholic" and "good Mason" have to be mutually exclusive. I have been a Mason in Kentucky now for 2 years, active in both the Blue Lodge and the York Rite, and like you Masonry reawakened my spiritual side and led me to find my way back to God. Though raised a Protestant, my own search has led me to the Catholic Church, and I'm in the RCIA process. The question of Catholicism and Freemasonry has given me a lot of pause for reflection and soul-searching, and I brought the issue up with my RCIA Counselor (one Sister Kathy, OSB) and her advice was to follow my conscience. I have to say that reading this post has given me a lot more food for thought, and has also assuaged some of my worries.

Again, thank you. My advice to others in a similar situation reading this: follow your heart and your conscience, and take the question to prayer, as well as to your parish.

--Stephen Brewer

At 16 April, 2006 03:55 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

<1>ama et fac quod vis<1>

love, and do whatever you want
(Saint Augustine)

At 23 June, 2006 21:02 , Anonymous Rose of Sharon said...

It is regrettable that some Catholics persist in thinking that they can be both a Catholic in good standing and a freemason.
In answer to the question: "In the past Catholics were forbidden under penalty to be Masons. Is this still true?" Msgr. William B. Smith, a theologian from Dunwoodie Seminary in NY wrote" "Yes, this is still true..."
Concerning perceptions - Catholc and non-Catholic - Msgr Smith notes: "Why in an era of ecumenism does the Catholic Church persist in condemning an organization often known for its charities and civic good words? No one doubts the many American Masons who claim sincerely they have never heard a word of criiticism of the Catholic Church in their lodges or functions. Indeed, Masonry rules out discussions of religion and politics in the lodge. Freemasonry is militantly 'anti-particularistic' to use their term. Sectarian religion may have positive values, but it is relegated to the sphere of private morality and private faith. They are, in a word, dogmatically 'anti-dogmatic' - there is no absolute truth, especially no dogmatically revealed absolute truth."
There in a nutshell is the reason Catholicism cannot be reconciled with freemasonry. Catholicsim is a revealed religion, based on supernatural truth. Freemasonry is based on naturalism. One cannot be a Catholic and a freeason. Anyone who believes he can be both is deceiving himself. Any Catholic (priest, nun, laity)who advises one to "folllow one's conscience" about Freemasonry is leading the person into error. As a Catholic one is OBLIGATED TO FOLLOW AN INFORMED CONSCIENCE: a concscience fomed by the infallible teaching of the Magisterium. There is only one TRUTH.
Msgr. Smith further notes: "Perhaps a religious Naturalism is better than no belief at all but for the professing Christian this is a retreat from the Gospel. Freemasonry clearly rejects dogma and the possibility of absolute truth. The Inspiration of the Bible and Divinity of Christ can not be periodic lay-asides for believing Catholics. When revealed doctrines are relegated to the harmless status of private opinion, will it or not, one contributes further to the endemic relativism that John Dewey so much fostered in education and Oliver Wendell advanced in jurisprudence."
Rosemary T. Reid

At 17 October, 2006 22:53 , Anonymous D1rk said...

Rosemary T. Reid's post just reinforces my feeling that the Catholic Church believes it holds all the keys to Jesus and Salvation and that the only way to him is through them. From what I read of history this has been their intention throughout the ages. To contol people by controlling their minds. I believe in Jesus but I also believe there is a tremendous amount out there that the Catholic Church doesnt want us to know. Especailly how she has manipulated history to make Christianity fit into her plans of controlling the world by controlling peoples minds. I am a mason and a Christian but my mind will remain open to learn everything I can about this world. Not just what she the Catholic Church feeds me.
Brotherly Love, Charity and Truth. Why do they fear us? Ask yourself that.

At 06 November, 2006 23:54 , Anonymous Allan M. Lacson said...

One have to be a Mason to understand what Freemasonry teaches. I'm a Catholic. One particular I can say is: Freemasonry promotes getting involved in your community and your religion. But then why some Catholics still persist on thinking that Masons are meeting secretly to take over the Church? Since I became a Master Mason it reinforced my faith in my religion.

At 09 May, 2007 02:10 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 3rd degree ritual of Freemasonry requires a candidate to be led around the room, blindfolded, saying he was "blind" (meaning, spiritually) before coming to Freemasonry.

Someone who authentically believes that Roman Catholicism, or Christianity, or any religion at all which has tenets of faith, has revealed to him the truth for life and living, cannot utter these words and say that they lived in "darkness" before becoming a Mason. This would be speaking out of both sides of the mouth at once. How can one's religious faith, which ostensibly gave the person "light," later be said to have left the person in "darkness"? Is this equivalent to a renunciation of one's faith? It sounds like it over here!

There is so much more, but this is just one reason that the two are incompatible. You can't believe or testify to two opposing things at once. Either you believe that Jesus Christ is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," and that "no man comes to the Father, but by [Him]", as He said, or you believe that Masonry gives you the truth and light that you need, as you claim when becoming a 3rd degree Mason.

It all comes down to, what is your source of truth - whose truth will you assent to - how will you work out the fact that you are agreeing to two opposing truths in your life at once?

Any philosophical system which denies that Jesus Christ is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life, is a system opposed to Christianity as taught by Jesus.

Not trying to be harsh here, just trying to shed light upon why Catholicism is opposed to Freemasonry. It is the easy way out to say, "Well, it's just because European Freemasonry plotted against the R.C. Church. They've reacted against that plotting, but it's not relevant here in the U.S. because here the Masons don't plot against the Church. The opposition of the R.C. Church to Freemasonry was and is all simply political, and doesn't matter here in America." This is a cop-out designed to rationalize being Catholic and a Mason at the same time. There are definite and specific doctrinal reasons why a Catholic cannot be a Mason. There are words in the Masonic rite that you cannot utter, symbolisms you cannot embrace, if you strictly hold to Catholic teachings. The only way to get by with it, is to be a more liberal Catholic who takes his R.C. teachings with a grain of salt (which most American Catholics are).

Also, the R.C. Church's pronouncements against Freemasonry specifically state that not even a priest nor a bishop had the authority to alter these pronouncements. ("It is not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authorities to give a judgment on the nature of Masonic associations which would imply a derogation from what has been decided above,..") So, with all due respect, what is this RCIA counselor doing, telling someone to follow their conscience? This sister was obligated to pass on directly the teaching of the Church, especially since Catholics who become Freemasons run the risk of being excommunicated. She may have thought she was caring for the soul of the Mason who was inquiring; but in reality she was doing the opposite. She should have told you that it is a mortal sin and it could excommunicate you.

But I appreciate reading your viewpoints and thoughts on the matter. And also that you have done honest soul-searching on the question. This reveals more spiritual sensitivity than someone who simply plunges ahead and dives in, not caring about the impact it may have upon their religious practice and whether it is pleasing to God that they participate in these rituals and say these things.

It is easy to look at all the "good works" done by the Masons, and justify participating...However, I'm sure there are good Catholic charities and organizations for doing good works, where you wouldn't run into this dichotomy of doctrine and belief, and would still be able to enjoy the collegiality of brotherhood, and wouldn't have the Catholic/Mason thing on your conscience. Or, even good charities that are not Catholic, but whose beliefs do not oppose those of the Church but would be in a more neutral vein.

At 17 May, 2007 10:49 , Anonymous Joshua Armstrong said...

I, too, as Master, require that the investigating committee inform the candidate, if he is Catholic, of the official position of the Church against Freemasonry. This notwithstanding, there are many Catholics who are very active in my Lodge and whose pastors see no problem with this.

I am a Christian man and a Mason. I would speak to the "talking out of both sides of one's mouth" if I may. A helpful resource here would be Carl Claudy's Introduction to Freemasonry books. In them, he says that the imagery and symbolism of darkness and light are intended to be taken as an intellectual allegory and not a spiritual one. For persons of other religions, it may well have a spiritual application but for Christians, there is no question that we are NEVER in spiritual darkness once we receive Christ. In this case, we speak the words that we have been in "darkness" as relates the (allegorical) secrets of Masonry, having never before sat in a Lodge. This is, in my jurisdiction, made clear to the newly-made brother in a short lecture after the EA degree. I, too, have considered the many potential hangups a Christian may have with Masonry (the idea of being in darkness, the idea that purity of life and conduct is essentially necessary to gain entrance to Heaven, etc). I have come to rational and Scripturally-based conclusions on all of them, with the help of my pastor and several of my Christian Masonic Brethren. I have determined that, as yet, I have found no conflict between Blue Lodge Masonry (I am not a member of Scottish Rite or York Rite or the Shrine) and the Christian faith. In fact, as a Christian, I find the teachings of Masonry to be uplifting and encouraging to my faith. In a way, it is because of Masonry (more specifically my Christian Masonic Brethren) that I came to Christ in the first place. All that said, if I ever did see a clear conflict of interest between my obligation to God and my obligation to Lodge, I would leave the Lodge. But as yet, I have seen nothing that would prompt this action.

At 02 July, 2007 13:31 , Anonymous Stephen said...

Without explanation of qualification from my alignment with faith, politics, profession, or personal affiliation and for all it is worth - In all its’ broad expanse the vast distance of thought between Catholicism and any other religion, sect, cult, denomination, branch, or tradition comes down to the difference between the authority of bishops, priests, and deacons versus the authority of laity. Viewed from this advantage it is merely a near invisible crack in the sidewalk that one merely need step over. Do not be a bit surprised to find the Holy Spirit follow.

When John the Baptist recruited his cousin the church had been thriving for many generations. The laity watched over each group of worshipers. The laity changed regularly. The laity included women. More than three hundred years later several ecumenical conferences of bishops of the Catholic Church determined what would be uniform Christian doctrine. The bishops shunned the laity. The bishops claimed their authority came from their direct lineage to eleven of the original twelve (Plus another, voted in after Judas died) men following Christ. Women were not included.

Bro Christian, my Great Uncle Charles Lyford was a member of the lodge in South Portland. Thank you for your insight on Catholic members and Masonry.


Bro Stephen, Elmer O. Smith Lodge No. 307 F. & A. M.

At 10 February, 2008 13:20 , Anonymous Falcon Colorado Brother said...

To whom ever wrote that we as Masons upon recieving the 3rd Degree claim Masonry as the source of Truth and Light.
In The First Degree we learn that The Holy Bible,square and Compasses are the 3 reat lights from which a Mason recieves Truth and light.
First and foremost because The Bible is the inestimable gift to man from God.
The Square and Compasses are symbolic of principles which should be obvious to any cogent being.
It is not rocket science to connect The Square with fair and square
WB Ed Brown Jr PM
Distr Lecturer D-61

At 04 July, 2008 10:07 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Falcon Colorado Brother.
My experience is that as candidates for Freemasonry we are only in darkness as regards to Freemasonry, not spirituality or anything else.

Any statement contrary to that is just as a result of cognitive dissonance and is used to justify the speaker's ill belief.

At 08 October, 2009 13:33 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Catholic and a Freemason I find the two compatible, like the those others I found my Catholic Sprituality awakened by Freemasonry. Never once have I found anything which conflicted with my Catholic teachings or Dogma. I find being a member of American society more at odds with my faith than anything found in Freemasonry. It seems as I attend church and watch the congregation get older and older and smaller and smaller , I cannot help but think that perhaps the Catholic Church has a greater ally in Freemasonry than it does in Modern secular society. I think the world will be a much poorer place when the churches are boarded and the the Masonic temples dark. Who will teach us the Guide and Rule then, the Internet? Television?


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