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.

Canon A95 Review

I am looking to upgrade my battlescarred Canon A75 to the new A95 or A610 models. I was reading user reviews of the Canon PowerShot A95, when I ran across this gem:

not tough enough (DCHQ)

With money being tight now a days I decided to search for a camera that has more uses than just taking photos. So I head out to the local flee market, because lets face it everyone knows that is where the best constructed cameras can be had. Anyway Im a carpenter by trade and I thought it would be nice to try out this new camera I just purchased and see just how versitle it is. The first test was the drag test. I dragged the camera 6 feet across a gravel driveawy. I must say although the it made terrible noise durring the test it stayed together leaving it just strached up badly. Next I tried the roll test. Durring this test the camera did well in part because of the roundish shape it has. Only a small crack was found in the upper right corner of the case, which did not effect the cameras performance at all. Next was the moisture test. I place the camera on a string and lower it into water 5ft and remove it right after checking for any leaks. This was the first chink in the armor! The camera took water in. (not happy about this) I decided the to change the test process around and go right to the "pound the nail int test". In short this camera WILL NOT be a good hammer on anything. Trying to drive a nail in to wood several times only created cracks in the case and untilmately a small hole. The good part about the hole was the water drained out from the previuos test. Now came the finally test. Can the camera be drop from eye level. I stand just over six feet and if Im gonna drop the camera durring use ever, I figured it would never be higher than eye level. The test proved two things. One the camera has pretty shinny parts on the inside and 2nd the camera will not work after this test. After completing the test my recomendation stands. I do NOT recommend this camera for anything other that taking pictures.....

Sex-based Marketing for iPod Cases

So, I am helping a friend find good cases for her new 5G iPod (with video), a task every new 5G owner should undertaking since it scratches like mad. There are few good looking cases with hard ship dates. I did find a set of iPod with video cases from Speck Products. The weird Grass Funskin go us started on their site and before long we ran into the See-Thru cases, with this tag line "Accent the seductive look of your iPod video!" Innocent enough, I guess. Then I click into the page and was hit by this:

A Shiny, Sleek Look
Accent the seductive look of your iPod video! Get great protection, a hint of color and a massive dose of shine. See-Thru iPod cases are made of translucent hard plastic to beautify and protect. 3-PACK comes with clear, black and red.

We all had the same basic reaction. The ad appears to say, "Buy our case and beautiful models will bend over so you can peek down their shirts." Uh. Whatever. Perhaps it would be wiser to just let the case sell itself.

23 October 2005

Brewing Old Peculiar or The Hop Shop Part II

During the brewing of Bitter Porter, Tom and I discussed our next homebrews. Our plan is to keep the brew kettle rolling all winter and thus avoid paying for commercial beer all year. It is only the faintest hope, but the challenge will be worthwhile. It will also force us to brew a wide variety of beer styles. Tom already has the ingredients for a continental dark, his so-called Dayside Dark. That is a beer we ought to save for later. The next truly winter beer is a version of Old Peculiar, by Theakston, copied from the excellent tome "Clone Brews." We both love Old Peculiar making this a nearly ideal deep winter beer.

I was dispatched to the truly great beer store in Gray: The Hop Shop. The last time I went to The Hop Shop I was a newly anointed home brewer having successfully created Triple Hop IPA; next on my list was a serious wheat beer. Flush with an inflated sense of my own greatness, I ignored the proprietor's kind advice and went all grain. Tom and I normally work with no more than 2-3lbs of grain where the balance of the malt is crystal or syrup. When I returned from The Hop Shop with 9lbs of grain Tom looked aghast. We made a go of it anyway and produced a solid malt pudding which gelled overnight and went into the compost looking more like canned chowder than wort.

I was determined to learn from my mistakes and listen carefully this time! I told the proprietor the tale of woe from last time. He had a good laugh reflecting that he too had made many similar mistakes in his learning process. I handed over the recipe for Old Peculiar and we collected the ingredients:

Steep in 1gal of water for 20min
  • 12oz of British crystal malt
  • 4oz of torrified wheat
  • 3oz British chocolate malt
Strain the liquid from this steeping into the brewpot
Sparge the grains with 1/2gal of hot water and put that liquid into the brewpot
Add these ingredients and boil for 45min:
  • 3lbs Muntons Light DME (dried malt extract)
  • 3.3lbs Muntons Light malt extract (syrup)
  • 1lb Laaglander Light DME
  • 1lb amber candy sugar
    • Neither Tom nor I have any idea how to use this...
  • 1oz Northern Brewer (bittering hops)
  • 2.5gal of additional water
Add these ingredients and boil for 13min:
  • 1/2 oz Fuggles (flavor hops)
  • 1tsp Irish Moss (a clarifying agent)
Add these ingredients and boil for 2min:
  • 1/2oz Fuggles (aroma hops)
Allow this to cool a bit, then strain it into the primary fermenter. Then add water to level at 5gal total volume.
When the mixture has cooled, often overnight for us, pitch the yeast:
  • Wyeast's 1084 Irish ale yeast
Allow to ferment for 5-7 days then add this and ferment until exhausted:
  • 1/2oz Fuggles (dry hop)
Bottle with 1 1/4 cup of priming sugar or M&F extra light DME
Finally we wait patiently while this turns into something similar to the famous Old Peculiar. As you can probably imagine I am looking forward to it. I do believe I will have to buy a six pack of Old Peculiar to enjoy as we brew this beer.

19 October 2005

Brewing Bitter Porter

Tom and I set to work on beer making again. I took the first batch this time with an extremely hoppy porter. Yeah, yeah, porter was not intended by God to be hoppy, but then again God never roasted malt a little to long, so no chocolate malt, so no porter anyhow! At least none in Heaven.

There is porter in Tom's basement, however, a thick, syrupy, hoppy, foul brew. That would be just to my liking. The recipe goes something like this:
  • 4gal of water in two large steel pots
  • 2lbs of chocolate malt in one pot
This is the type of mixture which got me into so much trouble Last Time. Stir briefly then split a beer into two glasses. The beer is Hennepin by the Masters of Beer at Ommegang, the glassware is weird little Pernod glasses, and the cooler is the sump pump hole. It is best to focus on the baseball game while stirring, since soon hot wort will be splashing you. Now turn your attention to the second pot adding:
  • 2lbs of dark crystal malt
  • 1can (3.3lbs) dark malt syrup
The first half beer goes quite quickly so best to break open the second bottle and pour another half glass. Yum! With both pots rolling along turn down the all grain to a simmer to "steep." This really means two things to me "no splashing of boiling hot wort onto my hands" and "no turning into thick oatmeal like Last Time". With both going it is time to decide what hops to add and when. Here is what we have on hand:
  • 1oz UK Kent Goldings
  • 1oz Tettnanger
  • 4oz At The Well Organic Hops (whole leaf)
I cut open both the Goldings and Tettnanger to smell them. I added the lighter smelling Goldings as the bittering hop:
  • 1oz UK Kent Goldings (crushed with a hammer)
Both baseball and stirring continued for a time until we agreed, after oohing and ahhing, that the thick black wort from the all grain portion was ready for business. We paused and opened a Gritty McDuff's Halloween Ale, which had also been chilling in the hole in the floor. It was stunningly different from the first. The excitement of straining to wort go the better of us and we set to work.

The equipment here is strictly amateur, no fancy wort transfer tubes and the like. The primary fermenter, having been cleaned by Tom earlier, goes on the floor. I grab the metal spoon and a plastic sieve. Tom lifts up the pot and pours slowly into the sieve. I move around the spoon making way for the wort (a fancy beer term for "hot, nasty water") to drain down into the fermenter (a fancy beer term for "bucket"). With the spent grain in one bucket and wort in the other we are overcome with a desire to boil it some more. I think Tom had a good reason at the time. The hopped extract mash and the hot grain wort are blended together with just a pause for a sip of ale, then:
  • 1oz Tettnanger (aroma)
Then we stir while the baseball game concludes with the White Sox winning the ALCS. The beer is finally ready for transferring to the primary fermenter (remember "bucket"). I take about 1oz of At The Well Organic Whole Hops and crush it in my hands by rubbing my palms back and forth with the hops in the center. At the end of this process my hands are covered with a stiff yellow film of sap from the hops, which smells heavenly! Washing my hands twice did not remove the scent, which was still with me the next day.

The lid goes on the fermenter and the airlock goes in the lid and we wait...

11 October 2005

Rapping about C++

Sounds like an easy task, right? Not so much. I listen to a podcast called Alternative Hip-Hop Lounge which provides a steady stream of good hip-hop generally without the "bitches" and "nines" common to mainstream rap. Early in episode 6 there was a pretty good track going talking about gansta rap ruining the genre, when all of the sudden out comes the line "but if you don't know C++, then you will never do the math." I nearly fell out of my chair. Who made the song? Where can I buy it? Where are the lyrics?

  • The song turned out to be by an LA hip-hop artist named "Subtitle" (Giovanni Marks).
  • The album is named "Lost Love Stays Lost" and is available from the iTunes Music Store.
  • The lyrics are another story. Just try to search for a combination of the track name and artist on Google.
If anyone has a source for complete lyrics for this track, let me know. How often does a programming language get mentioned in a song anyhow?

iTunes Art Importer

So, you bought one of those nifty iPods with a color display (nee iPod Photo) and the album art from the iTunes Music Store is cool, but what about all the tracks you ripped from the old days? Robert and I were talking about this on the plane back from the Microsoft PDC. I managed to turn up a great tool first: iTunes Art Importer. Install it on your machine and run it. Then select a set of songs from one album in the iTunes application. Click the "magnifying glass" icon in the iTunes Art Importer. It searches amazon.com for album covers. You pick one you like and then apply it to the selected tracks with one click.


I have downloaded covers from Z-M so far with only two brief nights of clicking and picking. This tool totally rocks.

09 October 2005

"What is the world coming to" iTunes Edition

So here I am cruising iTunes on a Sunday night looking for good tracks. I have "No Sleep Tonight" by "The Faders" in my shopping cart, when is switched to cruising 80's hardcore punk. When I run across what has to be the most idiotic music I have ever even heard of: "Punk Rock Baby." There are tracks including "London Calling," "Pretty Vacant," "White Riot," etc. The music is a weird..well just weird. It is some crazy mix of obvious synthesizer and pretend bells.

Okay. Let's just conjecture you are in your thirties, you have a baby, and you still hanker for your punk rock roots. Is the way to share that experience with your new kid really playing this totally crappy version of "London Calling"? Hell, "Pretty Vacant" is almost totally unrecognizable. I imagine about ten, fifteen minutes of this stuff and you will be sticking safety pins in your eardrums rather than your earlobes! So much for the tagline, "Tunes for Baby That Won't Drive You Crazy."

Wait until your little piker is a bit older and then share the good music with them, at leats the good music where every third word is not f*ck. You can be sure they will share that music with you when you are forty-five and hopeful that they just survive their teenage years.

(For the record, my policy is just to be a musical omnivore. I listen to the music my daughters listen to. It is even occasionally good, though it makes me feel creepy to be a grown man listening to Hope 7, Atomic Kitten and Avril Lavigne.)

Tricked by the Kids

You know you are getting old when you get tricked by your kids. It also might be that they are getting older, but the two go hand-in-hand. Tandy is still in San Francisco with the August '96 Moms at the annual getaway. Both girls seemed out of sorts this morning after such a hectic, cold day yesterday. They were so wiped out that even though everyone was dressed and ready for Mass, I asked them if they wanted a nap. Both are at the age naps are essentially evil, so when they admitted they were tired and needed a nap I let everyone lay down to rest. Though I hated to miss Mass this morning, I figured if they knew they were tired, I had better go with it.

More experienced parents know the next step in this tale. At 11:00am they were both spontaneously recovered and imbued with energy. I sent them off to read books and rest, but no luck there either. Tricky little monkeys got me!

07 October 2005

First Scottish Rite Degree

Tonight I participated in my first Scottish Rite Degree as a ritualist rather than a witness. I was given the role of The Guide in the suspiciously named "Secret Master" degree. The degree is not particularly suspicious up close as it merely takes a brief look at several Scottish Rite degrees including the 8th, 12th, 14th, 16th, 23rd, and 31st. The best word to describe the degree is tantalizing. The brief scenes give you just enough of the various degrees to make you genuinely want to see the individual degrees in their full form. I hope the candidates came away with the same sense.

The role I was given is present in all five scenes and has quite a few engaging lines. It leads the other main character, named Hiram, through the scenes providing most of the exposition. The character of Hiram was played by Andy Haslam, a Past Master from Hiram Lodge in South Portland. Andy is a great guy and an excellent ritualist. I really enjoy working with him, so this made the degree twice as fun. We are slated to perform the degree again in May.

The next degree on my plate for Scottish Rite is Zerubabbel in the 16th degree, "Prince of Jerusalem." There are about fifteen paragraphs of text to memorize. Fortunately, the language has classic Masonic styling rather than the modern styling of the new 4th degree, which ought to make it a lot easier than the 4th degree. For some strange reason modern language is harder for me to memorize.

06 October 2005

World's Shortest Personality Test

I was reading Mike Wilber's blog when I ran across his "personality test posting". I have to admit the test results seem to match him very well indeed. I figured what the heck and took the test myself, but I am not sure the results are so clearly me. After all, who on earth would say about me, "You always keep your cool and composure."?

You are happy, driven, and status conscious.
You want everyone to know how successful you are.
Very logical, you see life as a game of strategy.

A bit of a loner, you prefer to depend on yourself.
You always keep your cool and your composure.
You are a born leader and business person.