The Miter and The Trowel
William G. Madison, MPS
Albert Pike Lodge #1169, AF & AM
San Antonio, Texas
Wyoming Lodge, AF & AM
I am not a Catholic. I have been a Freemason for nearly forty years.
During that time I have repeatedly been asked the same two questions:
- "Why are the Masons anti-Catholic?"
- "Why is the Catholic Church anti-Masonic?"
The answer to the first is that "Modern regular Masons are not
anti-Catholic; they will accept any man of good character who believes
and puts his trust in a Supreme Being." This answer is usually received
with skepticism by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Even some
Freemasons, I am sorry to say, are skeptical. ("Regular" Freemasons are
those having their membership in a Lodge under the jurisdiction of a
generally recognized Grand Lodge.)
The answer to the second question is simply that the Church found
itself in direct opposition to most of the goals of the Enlightenment,
and Freemasonry (and the Carbonari, a secret political society in Italy
during the 18th century; now probably extinct) was the only identifiable
body whose goals generally supported those of the Enlightenment. Thus,
by association, the Church was opposed to Freemasonry.
Condemnation of Freemasonry held one additional advantage; it was
safe. Traditionally the Craft refuses to defend itself against
scurrilous attack. Therefore it is always a safe target. [This
continues to this day. Witness recent attacks by some extremist
religious elements in the United States.]
The Church's condemnation was spearheaded by a series of 21 bulls published between
1738 and 1902. In them, the Church condemned Freemasonry for:
- Supporting public education
- Supporting separation of Church and State
- Supporting equality of all men, including clergy, under the law
- Complete religious tolerance
- Advocating or condoning overthrow of Church and State.
- Having sacrilegious and obscene practices as part of its ritual
- Practicing Satanism
This list is, in effect, a condemnation of the entire Enlightenment,
the first four points being linchpins of the movement. The Craft is
certainly "guilty" on these four counts.
The last two, vis-a-vis Freemasonry, have been fabricated from whole
cloth, any possible connection between the Craft and the outlawed
Knights Templar notwithstanding.
The fifth point, advocating or condoning overthrow of Church and
State, may possibly have some basis if one makes the error of equating
the Italian Masonry of the period with the entire Masonic
Fraternity. From their founding, the Latin Grand Lodges, if not
explicitly anticlerical, were strongly (at times, militantly)
political. Thus it is quite possible that there may have been some basis
in fact for the charge.
Unfortunately, the disparity between the Latin version of Freemasonry
and that practised by the Teutonic and the English speaking Grand Lodges
completely escaped the notice of the Church. Thus, for nearly 200 years
we have had two world-wide organizations, both of which are striving for
the betterment of mankind, locked in an antagonistic relationship. I am
reminded of the opening lines of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
I am neither a professional historian nor a profound scholar. I have
been able to deduce tentative answers to the questions of how and why
this antagonism was allowed to flourish and to persist for so many
years. In presenting my deductions for public scrutiny, my hope is that
any resulting discussion may facilitate mutual understanding and
possibly reconciliation. That some day these two great institutions may
reach a modus vivendi.
Freemasonry defines itself as:
"A system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by
While this definition is universally true, it must be realized that
there is no single entity known as "Freemasonry." Freemasonry is made up
of men ("speculative" Masons) who assemble in "Lodges."
[The word "Lodge" Masonically carries two meanings;
(a) a group of Masons organized to work, and
(b) the location in which such a group meets.]
Lodges since 1717, in turn, have been organized into autonomous Grand
Lodges. The Grand Lodges practice Masonry, each in its own way, but all
according to certain fundamental principles. The chief among these for
all regular Grand Lodges is a belief in "The brotherhood of man under
the fatherhood of God."
Further description of the fundamental principles of the Craft may be
found in a non-secret portion of the ritual of the second (Fellow Craft)
degree of Freemasonry. It begins with a recognition that there exist two
kinds of Masonry; operative and speculative, and typically continues
(the exact wording depending upon the specific Grand Lodge):
"By Operative Masonry we allude to a proper application of the
useful rules of architecture, whence a structure will derive fig ure,
strength, and beauty, and from which will result a due proportion and
just correspondence in all its parts. It furnishes us with dwellings
and convenient shelters from the vicissitudes and inclemencies of the
seasons; and while it displays the effects of human wisdom, as well in
the choice as in the arrangement of the sundry materials of which an
edifice is composed, it demon strates that a fund of science and
industry is implanted in man, for the best, most salutary and beneficent
"By Speculative Masonry we learn to subdue the passions, act upon
the square, keep a tongue of good report, maintain secrecy, and practice
charity. It is so far interwoven with religion as to lay us under
obligations to pay that rational homage to Deity which at once
constitutes our duty and our happiness. It leads the contemp lative to
view with reverence and admiration the glorious works of creation, and
inspires him with the most exalted ideas of the perfection of the Divine
"Our ancient Brethren wrought in Operative as well as Speculative
Masonry. They worked six days before receiving their wages. They did no
work on the seventh, for in six days God created the heavens and the
earth, and rested on the seventh.
"The seventh day, therefore, our ancient Brethren consecrated as a
day of rest from their labors, thereby enjoying frequent opportu nities
to contemplate the glorious works of creation, and to adore their great
Since shortly after the formation of the Grand Lodge of England (the
first Masonic Grand Lodge to be formed - in 1717) and the subsequent
formation of the Grand Lodges of France and Italy, the Roman Catholic
Church and the Masonic Fraternity have been at odds. The Church, looking
at global Masonry from the vantage of Rome and therefore seeing
primarily Italian and French Masonry, has looked on Freemasonry as a
repository of anticlericalism and political activism, and of supporting
(or at least condoning) conspiracies against Church and State.
The Church's condemnation of rationalism, religious tolerance
("indifferentism" in the terminology of the Church), cancellation of
special legal status for the clergy, and the neutralization of Church
influence in government placed all Freemasons (regardless of Grand Lodge
affiliation) in direct and immediate conflict with the Vatican.
All Grand Lodge Freemasonry of the 18th century, but most especially
that of the Latin countries, was a child of the Enlightenment. Latin
(i.e., Italian, French, Portuguese and Spanish) Freemasonry saw the
Church, especially as embodied in Clement XII and Leo XIII, as a source
of obstructionism. The Church saw Freemasonry, which advances a
consistant, well defined moral and ethical system, as a potential rival
for the hearts and minds of men.
The Church failed completely to recognize the fragmented nature of
Freemasonry. Thus it could not see that many of the views of Masonry
which it found offensive were, in fact, unique to Latin Masonry. In many
instances, more specifically to Italian or French Masonry.
Thus, in condemning all Freemasonry for the actions of a few Grand
Lodges, the Church precipitated a needless conflict. Latin Masonry, in
its refusal to attempt to lead rather than force change, thereby made
itself, and thus all Masonry, a party to the conflict.
English/Irish/American Masonry did not recognize that there actually
was any problem.
In the beginning ...
The Masonic and Secular Worlds
The beginnings of Freemasonry are, quite literally, lost in time. The
earliest known references place the Craft's origins prior to A.D. 932,
some time during the reign of King Athelstan.
The earliest unequivocal reference to Freemasonry, the "Regius Poem,"
outlines much of the conduct of the Craft at the time of its writing. It
has been reliably dated at 1309 (coincidentally very close to the time
of the suppression of the Order of the Temple). The language used in
the poem suggests that the Craft had already been in existence for an
indefinite (but long) period of time prior to the 14th century. The
language also gives a strong hint of the relationship which the Craft
had with the Church at that time. In particular, it invokes the Virgin
Mary, refers to the Trinity, and gives instructions for observing
Mass. At that time, and up until approximately 1600, the Craft was
Though tradition holds that Masonry traces its genesis back to the
craft guilds of the European cathedral-building period, this is almost
certainly a fiction. Current historical research indicates, rather, a
confluence of traditions resulting in that which we now recognize as
"FREEMASONRY." The most prominent of these were the European "Craft
Lodges" (as opposed to the guilds) of Stone Masons, the Knights Templar
(following their suppression in 1307), and, much later, the Jacobite
supporters of "The Young Pretender" - Bonnie Prince Charlie.
By the time of the suppression of the Templars, Robert the Bruce had
already been excommunicated. Thus, the Papal ban on the Templars would
have had no effect in the lands controlled by Bruce. Celtic Scotland was
a made-to- order haven for the proscribed Templars.
As might be supposed, during this entire period the Craft was
strongly Catholic. This position softened somewhat, however, following
the Protestant Reformation. Masonry required its members to adhere and
support the "religion of the country in which they were living and
working." It was still strongly Christian, "aggressively" Christian has
been one description, but no longer exclusively Catholic.
This orientation persisted until about 1600 A.D., at which time a new
view came to be held; a view which required only a belief in a Supreme
Being, leaving the name of this Being and the manner of worship solely
to the conscience of the individual. This, the present view, was
later formalized (1723) in the so-called Old Charges, one of the
foundation stones upon which modern Freemasonry rests. The first of the
Old Charges reads (with the spelling modernized):
"A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law; and
if he rightly understands the art, he will never be a stupid
athiest, nor an irreligious liber tine. But though in
ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of
the religion of that country or nation, whatever it was, yet
'tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that
religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular
opinions to themselves; that is, to be good men and true, or
men of honor and honesty, by whatever denominations or
persuasions they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry
becomes the center of union and the means of concili ating
true friendship among persons that must have remained at a
Now move to the year of our Lord 1680 and the burgeoning of the Age
of Enlightenment. The decades ahead will see an explosion of original
political and social thought. Locke, Hume, Newton, Spinoza, Voltaire
and others will challenge conventional wisdom in the areas of
philosophy, government, and religion. More and more the idea of
rationalism (human reason is the only possible guide to wisdom) will be
discussed and accepted. With it, anticlericalism will become a force to
be reckoned with in Rome. As direct results of these ideas (in no
- Newton has extended Galileo's findings about the properties of
falling bodies, until they now reach the limits of the universe. The
universe has become mechanistic.
- The ideas of original sin and the necessity of Divine redemption
have been summarily rejected by some Enlightenment philosophers, to be
replaced by the idea that the human condition can be improved through
the effort of individuals; human nature, and hence society, is
- Voltaire advances the idea of equal rights under the law, and
completely rejects the concept of any absolute authority. He is a firm
anticlericalist, considering the Church to be among greatest oppressors
of mankind because of its absolutism; its insistence that it has the
only truth and its demand for complete obedience.
- Montesquieu promotes the idea of a government based on separation
of powers into legislative, executive, and judicial branches with checks
- John Locke publishes his Second Treatise on Civil Government,
rejecting the idea of Divinely inspired or sanctioned government. In
his view government is a human compact of convenience, invented to
encourage individual liberty and rights. Second Treaise thus provides
the theoretical foundation for the American and French revolutions as
well as for the Italian War of Unification.
The list goes on ... .
A few years later February 1717 is a landmark for Freemasonry. The
Grand Lodge of England is formed by the four Lodges existing in London.
Anthony Sayre is elected Grand Master during a general meeting held on
the next feast day of St. John the Baptist. These events mark the
beginning of the modern Masonic fraternity.
Six years later, 1723, sees the formalization of the foundations of
Freemasonry; the Old Charges mentioned above are published. This event
finalizes the movement of the Craft from its earlier status of an
exclusively Catholic body to its present character as a common meeting
ground for all who believe in a Supreme Being, however they wish to
worship. It also completes the transition from Masonry's Operative
beginnings to its present Speculative workings.
A short twenty-six years after the formation of the English Grand
Lodge, in 1733, Charles Sackville, Duke of Dorset, establishes a Masonic
Lodge at Florence, Italy. He apparently did this completely on his own
initiative, for no trace of any warrent empowering him to do so has ever
been found. The fortunes of the Craft are shaky at first, until
Sackville initiates the Grand Duke of Tuscany into the Order. The
prestige of the Grand Duke greatly improves the prospects and growth of
the Craft in Italy. From this first beginning, Italian Masonry is
By 1735, Lodges have been established in Milan, Verona, Padua, and
Venice, comprising with Florence the major population centers in
northern Italy. In addition, there is a Lodge in Naples, to the south.
By 1737 the membership of the Lodge at Florence includes among its
members the best of local society; men of liberal education, learning
and culture; poets and painters; priests and politicians. The
unconventional views and the wealth of some of the members has already
attracted the attention of the Inquisition. In June of that year, at a
conference of Cardinals held in Rome under the chairmanship of the Chief
Inquisitor of Florence, the first bull to condemn Freemasonry, "In
eminenti" is drafted, ...
The Church's World
It is the year of our Lord 1737. A conference of Princes of the Roman
Catholic Church is being held in Rome, under the chairmanship of the
Chief Inquisitor of Florence.
For over one thousand years, the Inquisition has been de facto
autonomous many times. During these periods, it was not even answerable
to the Pope except as a formality. In these periods of Inquisitorial
autonomy, the leading role taken by the Chief Inquisitor at this meeting
would not have been remarkable. But this was the mid-eighteenth century,
not the mid-thirteenth!
The Inquisition could trace its origins back to the fifth century.
Originally set up to discover and punish heresy, its power began to
decline in the sixteenth century, generally coincident with the rise of
the Reformation. By the eighteenth century it could usually be ignored
with impunity. The rise of naturalism, rationalism and anticlericalism
which characterize the eighteenth century carries with it a loss of much
of the power of both the Church and the Holy Office. An absolute power,
regardless of its origin, could no longer command a strong hold on the
lives of the people of post-Renaissance Europe.
With this loss of power, the general populace has no incentive to
discover and report on real or suspected heresy. The decreased number of
trials being performed naturally causes a sharp decline in revenue.
Divided between the Church and the State, these revenues were
historically the primary source of funds for Inquisitorial salaries.
Thus there is a strong motivation to find new opportunities for
Since we are examining events in which the Chief Inquisitor of
Florence took a leading part, we should be examining the contemporary
records of the Florentine Inquisition. Unfortunately these records have,
for the most part, been lost. Using other nearby Inquisitions as
models, however, some tentative conclusions may be drawn. These models
graphically reflect a diminution of power and influence, as measured
by the number of trials being conducted. The reduction in number of
trials correlates directly with the rise in naturalism, rationalism and
anticlericalism which characterize the Age of Enlightenment in Europe.
These records show, for example, that the Venetian Inquisition fell
from a high average of 35 trials per year during 1586-1630 to an average
of only 3 per year during 1721-1794. Similarly, the Neapolitan
Inquisition fell from a high average of 35 per year during 1591-1620 to
5 per year during 1701-1740.
The War of the Worlds
With this background it is understandable that ambitious men would be
alert for opportunities to re-capture their earlier power, influence,
and wealth. The drafting of "In eminenti" is not only
understandable but perhaps even inevitable. Unfortunately for the
Church, its effect was the antithesis of that desired.
At the time of Clement XII and "In eminenti" many of the
European, especially the Latin Lodges and Grand Lodges were
Jacobite. However, the Craft was growing in influence very quickly,
while the influence of the Church was declining. Thus it would be
natural for the Church to forbid its adherents to join the Craft.
While there was limited compliance from among the Jacobite faction,
the bull was ignored elsewhere. Thus the departure of the Jacobite
faction created a power vacuum within the continental Grand Lodges of
the Craft. This vacuum came to be filled by, among others, the Templar
influence. The Templars were quite naturally anticlerical. Thus the bull
had much the opposite effect to that desired. Instead of weakening the
Craft and its influence, and slowing its growth, the effect of "In
eminenti" was to purge the Craft of the Catholic elements which
might have moderated the anticlericalism. The strengthening of the
anticlerical element carried with it a stiffening of the political
What basis did "In eminenti" set forth as the basis for the
condemnation? Specifically, Freemasonry was condemned because:
1. it is formed by "men of any Religion or sect, satisfied with the
appearance of natural probity"
2. [the members] have pledged "by a strict and unbreakable bond
which obliges them, both by an oath upon the Holy Bible and by a host of
grievous punishment to an inviolable silence about all that they do in
3. "... they do not hold by either civil or canonical sanctions;
4. there are " ... other just and reasonable motives known to Us;
The first point, tolerance of alternative religions, has been given
the name "religious indifferentism" by the Church. Religious
indifferentism must be condemned by the Church, since the Church
believes that it holds to the only Truth and therefore may tolerate no
The second point, requirement for secrecy regarding portions of the
ceremonials, must be condemned by the Church, since it believes that it
must act as the intercessor (and the only intercessor) for the
forgiveness of sins following confession and repentance. Therefore there
can be no subject barred to the confessional.
As to the third point, Freemasonry does not even permit political or
religious discussion to take place within its walls. The
Fraternity's goal is to sharpen its Members' awareness and senses, that
they might work to eliminate tyranny and injustice as individuals. But
it does not and never has take any institutional position on these
The last point, quoting the King of Siam from the musical The King
and I, "is a puzzlement".
By this time in its history, the Church had long held to a doctrine
of exclusivity. It alone was granted the wisdom and knowledge to
interpret God's will for the faithful. Centuries of persecution under
the Roman Empire had welded the faithful into a coherent band possessing
near unanimity of religious thought. The trauma wrought by the
Reformation and the subsequent Counter Reformation had further hardened
The Church, thus oriented in its thought and belief, could not be
expected to understand or be sympathetic to an organization which
accepted men of any religious stripe into its ranks. Masonry
guaranteed to its membership complete freedom of religious
thought. Masonry absolutely requires that any candidate for membership
believe and put his trust in a Supreme Being. But it has traditionally
refused to ask anything more about an individual's religious beliefs.
An additional impetus can be found for the condemnation. Some of the
fugitive Templars are known to have been instrumental in the victory of
Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. The participation of the fugitives
appears to have been generally recognized at the time.
Now recognize that Robinson was correct in his conclusion that there
was a strong Templar influence in the early development of
Freemasonry. [The Order of the Temple (Order of the Poor Knights of
Christ and the Temple of Solomon; Knights Templar), was an order of
warrior monks prominent during the Crusades.]
At the time of their arrest and suppression in 1307, the Templars
were undoubtedly the richest organization in the known world. By simply
calling a small portion of their outstanding loans they could have
bankrupted France, put the Church into serious financial difficulty, and
upset the financial stability of much of the rest of Europe. On their
suppression almost none of their vast known treasure was discovered and
confiscated. One theory is that it was carried off by the Templar fleet,
which is known to have put to sea several days before the mass arrest
and was never seen again. (In addition to Bruce's Scotland, there was no
vigorous suppression of the Templars throughout much of Europe, with
many rulers dragging their feet or openly defying both the Pope and the
King of France.)
Now since the Freemasons were a party to the concealment of the
Templars, they were automatically guilty of heresy. They might also have
access to at least some of the lost Templar treasure. Now there is, in
addition to the political motive, both a religious and an economic
motive for suppression.
Regardless of what set of motives one ascribes to the generation of
"In eminenti"; whether it was an Inquisitorial document imposed
on an infirm Pope, or was a Papal document; its effect was directly the
opposite of that desired by the Church. Thus, it is not especially
surprising that no further strong Papal denunciations occurred for many
years. The Church had placed itself in opposition to the Craft. The
manner in which it was done fostered a virulent anticlericalism within
Italian and French Masonry. The Church must now learn to recognize and
deal with the chimera it has helped to create.
Thus, after a rather luke-warm confirmation of "In eminenti" with the
publication of "Providas" by Benedict XIV in 1751, nothing of
significance is heard of an anti-Masonic nature until seventy years
In 1821 "Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo" is published by Pius VII. But
"Ecclesiam" is not primarily directed against the Freemasons. Rather, it
places the "Carbonari" (an Italian secret political society) under
the same penalties as the Freemasons.
Another five years with only minor activity. "Quo graviora mala"
(1826 by Leo XII) mentions Freemasonry, although it, like "Ecclesiam",
is again primarily directed against the Carbonari. It accuses both of
being societies with "oathbinding secrecy and conspiracies against
Church and State."
Another four years. "Litteris altero" (1830, Pius VIII) condemns
Masonic influence in education. The specific point at issue seems to be
that the "Masonic influence" advocates removing explicit and mandatory
clerical control from the educational process.
Ten years later, in 1840, the Italian war of unification begins.
Sardinia sends troops to assist in driving the Hapsburgs out of
Tuscany. While this specific adventure failed, it reflects the rise of
strong nationalistic sentiments in Italy. These sentiments are
inextricably linked to the feelings of rationalism and anticlericalism
mentioned above. Events in Italy are quickly coming to a head. "Qui
pluribus", published in 1846 by Pius IX, even though making no
explicit mention of Freemasonry, provides an outline of the roots of the
Fifteen years after "Qui pluribus" (1861), Italy (with the exception
of the Papal States) has been unified through the efforts of the
combined Italian armies under the leadership of the Freemason Giuseppi
Garabaldi. He has been stopped from conquering the Papal States and
bringing them into the unified Italy only because they fall under the
protection of France and Napoleon III. In the eyes of the Church,
the fact that Garabaldi was a Freemason must have been the final element
in the proof that Freemasonry was inexorably in opposition to the
Four years later, in 1865, Pius IX published "Multiplices inter",
which, in addition to condemning Masonry once again, reproves secular
governments for not uprooting and suppressing it.
Shortly after this, in 1870, an event occurs which is equally
important to the Church and to Freemasonry. Specifically, the
Franco-Prussian War breaks out, forcing Napoleon to withdraw his
protection of the Papal States. With the door thus left open, the
Italian army under Garabaldi enters Rome. The Church is stripped of the
last of its temporal domains and authority. Again, the villian is the
Freemason Garabaldi. Again, the question of whether Garabaldi is an
Italian who is also a Freemason, or whether he is a Freemason who
happens to be Italian, is never asked. Again, there is a failure to
distinguish between Latin Freemasonry and that practised elsewhere.
One year following the City's capitulation (1871), Rome is declared
the capital of a united Italy under Victor Emmanual II. With this
declaration, the Papacy enters a voluntary exile inside the Vatican from
which it will not emerge until the signing of the Lateran Treaty in
1929. By this time, Mussolini's Fascist party is in control of the
In 1878 Leo XIII is elected to succeed Pius IX who has died after a
reign of approximately 34 years. Leo's election marks the end of the
"interregnum", and the beginning of full scale attacks by the Church on
The New Crusades
On his election in 1878, Leo XIII must have felt himself under
grievous political pressure. His predecessor, Pius IX, had lost control
of the Papal States. With their loss, the Vatican had been stripped of
the remnants of its temporal domains. It is easy to imagine Leo feeling
that, though history might brand Pius as the Pope who lost the Papal
States, it would look on him (Leo) as the Pope who failed to recover
Leo (Vincenzo Pecci) had advanced rapidly in the Church following
his ordination in 1837, being named to his first important post only a
few weeks thereafter. In less than four years he was named delegate to
Perugia. His initial tenure in Perugia was only two years, but in
that short time he established a solid reputation as a liberal, and a
social and political reformer.
In 1843 he was appointed nuncio to Brussels where he served for three
years. Much of his time and energy during this period was spent in
mediating an educational controversy which had been raging for some
years. That he was successful speaks well for his skill in diplomacy and
He was appointed Archbishop of Perugia in 1846, only nine years after
being ordained. He was named a cardinal priest in 1853 by Pius IX.
During his entire priesthood in Italy, he worked tirelessly to
improve both the intellectual and the spiritual level of the clergy, and
to achieve some measure of social reform.
Somewhat later his further advancement was compromised by his very
luke-warm support of the Syllabus Errorum, which had been published by
Pius IX in 1864. He was re-established to favor in 1870, however, by
his vigorous protests against the seizure of the Church's properties and
the loss of the Pope's temporal powers. In 1877 he was appointed
camerlingo and brought back to the Vatican.
Following the death of Pius IX in 1878, Pecci was elected Pope on the
third ballot. Presumably, the Sacred College was concerned by the
possibility of interference in the electoral process by the Italian
government; hence felt itself under pressure to conclude the election as
quickly as possible. Sixty- eight years old at the time of his election,
he must have been regarded as a short term fill-in. In one of history's
ironic twists, he reigned for twenty- five years.
During his reign, Leo significantly advanced and liberalized Catholic
education and politics on a world wide basis. He worked to arrive at an
accommodation between science and the Church. In all areas, however, he
seemed to be unable to recognize that natural science or education or
political science exist on an equal footing with the Church. In
his view, the Church must always be supreme.
One must sympathize with Leo, whether or not one agrees with him. He
was a liberal and a reformer by inclination, but had committed himself
and his life to a conservative institution. He had given his life to the
Church, and had seen the Church stripped and beggared. He had seen the
Church, which had never hesitated to use both its political and
spiritual power to achieve its ends, forced now to rely strictly on its
spiritual power. The political power was gone. The ability to use
political power for spiritual ends, or spiritual power for political
ends was gone. The Church was groping, trying to learn the rules of a
new ball game. The Church to which Leo had committed his life in 1837
was not the same Church which existed after 1870. With the Age of
Enlightenment sweeping the world, he was an essential liberal bound with
unbreakable ties to a conservative institution.
In an attempt to come to terms with his times Leo issued a series of
pronouncements. During his reign he issued a total of 117 bulls and
encyclicals, or an average of nearly five per year. This almost doubles
the number written by any preceding Pope.
Leo's more important pronouncements [in terms of their effect on
* Diturnum (1881)
* Etsi nos (1882)
* Humanum genus (1884)
* Officio sanctissimo (1887)
* Ab apostolici (1890)
* Custodi di quella fede (1892)
* Inimica vis (1892)
* Praeclara (1894)
* Annum ingressi (1902)
A curious parallel exists between the emotions reflected in these
pronouncements and the set of emotions through which an individual
passes while dealing with extreme trauma or loss. "Diturnum" sees
him denying the effects of the Enlightenment (nationalism, religious
tolerance, ...), seeing them only as minor perturbations on the
political scene. "Etsi nos" sees the denial continue, but with the
beginnings of anger. The anger peaks in "Humanum genus". "Officio
sanctissimo" to "Inimica vis" sees the progression from anger through
bargaining (with political powers and the national bishops primarily)
to, finally, depression. The depression comes through quite clearly in
"Inimica vis" and "Praeclara". And finally he receives the blessing of
acceptance. This acceptance is seen in "Annum ingressi"; not acceptance
of the Enlightenment or of nationalism or of Masonry, but acceptance of
the idea that there exist things which cannot be changed, even when
wielding the total power of the Catholic Church. Leo finally seemed to
realize and accept that the Church he knew as a young man was gone
forever and that the new Church must find a new path.
He was forced to watch the encroachments of the effects of the
Enlightenment, especially nationalism, on the prerogatives Church, and
was powerless to halt them. He was a prisoner of the times. His
voluntary imprisonment inside the Vatican was but a pale reminder of
that more galling prison, the times in which he lived. Freemasonry, in
many ways the visible embodiment and bulwark of ideas which were hateful
to him, must have become to him the symbol as well as the agent of the
wanton destruction of that which he held dear.
The publication of "Humanum genus" is now quite understandable. This
bull, published in 1884, is held up within the Masonic Fraternity as the
archtype of anti-Masonic propaganda, and Leo XIII as one of the chief
persecutors of the Craft. As in the case of "In eminenti", "Humanum
genus" accuses the Craft of many things of which the Craft is actually
quite proud; advocacy of separation of church and state, freedom of
conscience and religion, equality of all people under the law, &c.
By implication, since the Church condemns Freemasonry for its defence of
these ideas, frequently the Masonic perception is that the Church is
unalterably opposed to them.
Unfortunately, the inaccuracies and distortions contained in "Humanum
genus" have driven a wedge between the Fraternity and the Church which
has thus far been impossible to totally overcome. But in fairness,
"Humanum genus" must be seen as but one of a series of pronouncements
which are products of the times as much as of the man.
Within a very few months of the publication of "Humanum genus", the
American bishops, meeting in plenary council in Baltimore, published a
pastoral letter not only vigorously supporting "Humanum genus", but also
effectively shutting off any debate by the faithful. The problem is
that such a document only serves to exacerbate the lack of understanding
between the Church and Freemasonry. For whatever reason it was written,
the ultraconservative message it conveys runs counter to the core
teachings of Freemasonry. Hence, it magnifies the distance between the
Church and the Craft.
A New Dawn?
In 1903 Leo XIII dies and is replaced by Pius X, who ruled for eleven
years. Pius' successor, elected in 1914, was Benedict XV.
In 1917 Benedict promulgates a new code of canon law, containing
Article 2335. Article 2335 explicitly forbids access to Freemasonry,
under punishment of automatic excommunication. Nothing further is
officially heard from the Church for many years.
The election and regime of John XXIII in 1958 seems to signal a
change in wind direction, but there is no change in official
position. This must await the election of Paul VI in 1963, which sees a
partial relaxation in the Church's position on many items. "Unitatis
redintegratio" and "Nostra aetate" are published, recommending tolerance
and open dialog with non-Catholic believers. This spirit is carried
further by Vatican II, as proclaimed in the declaration "Dignitatis
This new spirit of openness under Paul even permits the clergy to
openly disagree with the hierarchy. This is nowhere better exemplified
than in a book written by the Spanish Jesuit J.A. Ferrer Benimeli, S.J.
His book, La Masoneria Despues del Concilio (Masonry since the [Vatican]
Council), published in 1968, argues that the bans of the Papal Bulls
should not be extended to the regular Grand Lodges.
In 1971, two English Freemasons are specifically permitted by the
Holy See to join the Church without renouncing their Mason
affiliations. This had happened before in many parishes, but 1971
marks the first occasion on which the Vatican had explicitly given its
The capstone, however, comes in 1974. In that year, the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith reinterprets Article 2335 of the code of
Canon Law, saying that it only pertains to Lodges known to be hostile to
Further formalizing this more permissive attitude, the new code of
Canon Law is published in 1983. Article 2335 is replaced in its
entirety by the new Article 1374, which only forbids association with
organizations known to be hostile to the Church. It appears that
major accommodations have been reached between the Church and the
The End of the Story
With the pronouncement of 1974 and the wording of the new Article
1374, there is general feeling that the door is open for cooperation and
brotherhood between the Church and Freemasonry; that the period of ill
will of the past two-hundred years is at an end. This optimism is soon
called into question.
The twenty year period of toleration and dialog beginning with the
election of John XXIII in 1958 is placed in jeopardy in 1978 with the
election of the conservative John Paul II.
Only days before the new Article 1374 is to go into effect at the end
of 1983, a new pronouncement ("Quaesitum est") is issued by the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under a new Prefect,
supposedly "clarifying" the 1974 pronouncement; actually reversing it.
This same pronouncement also compromises the wording of Article 1374, in
effect saying "The Article doesn't really mean what it says. Nothing has
changed." As a result many Catholics are basing their actions
vis-a-vis Freemasonry on the 1974 pronouncement, ignoring the 1983
Since that time (1983) there have been numerous voices within the
Catholic Church calling for a relaxation of the Church's attitude toward
the Fraternity. Also, some dioceses are rejecting the authority of
"Quaesitum est", basing their decisions regarding Masonic membership
only on Canon 1374. The rationale for this stand is that "Quaesitum
est" was promulgated prior to the effective date of Canon 1374; hence
Canon 1374 supercedes "Quaesitum."
Nothing has emerged from the Vatican of an official nature, however.
So, while the future appears promising, the end of this bit of
history has not yet been written. When and how the book will be closed
must rest, as must all things, in the hands of the Grand Architect of
1. Claudy, C.H., Introduction To Freemasonry, Temple
Publishers, Washington, 1931; p105
2. Masonically the Deity is frequently referred to as "The Grand
Architect of the Universe." The term has often been siezed on by
anti-Masons as "proof" that Masonry worships a strange God. Nothing
could be further from the truth.
Masonry, while most definitely not a religion, opens and closes its
ceremonies with prayer. It uses prayer as an integral part of all its
ceremonies including the conferring of its degrees. The term is used in
recognition of the disparate religious traditions which frequently are
attending meetings. By using a term which has no association with any
specific sect or body of faith, each individual attendee is free to
mentally assign his own name to the Deity; to frame the prayer in the
way which is most meaningful to him.
Rather than being separatist, the use of the term reflects the
Craft's attempt to accommodate all religious tradition.
3. This idea is attacked in the bull "Diturnum"
published by Leo XIII in June, 1881.
4. ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA (1959), vol. XII p. 379, Inquisition,
"Soon the papacy managed to gain a share of the spoils, even outside the
states of the Church, as is shown by the bulls ad extirpanda of Innocent
IV and Alexander IV, and henceforward had, in varying proportions, a
direct interest in these spoliations. In Spain this division only
applied to the property of the clergy and vassals of the Church, but in
France, Italy, and Germany, the property of all heretics was shared
between the lay and ecclesiastical authorities. Venice alone decided
that all receipts of the Holy Office should be handed over in full to
5. HENNINGSTEN, G. and TEDESCHI, J., The Inquisition in Early
Modern Europe, Northern Illinois Univ. Press, DeKalb, 1986; p. 131,
"Toward a Statistical Profile of the Italian Inquisitions, Sixteenth to
Eighteenth Centuries" states:
"If the Roman Holy Office was a victim of Napoleonic looting,
other important provincial Inquisitions, in Florence, Milan, or
Palermo, were victims of Jacobin riots or suppression of the
religious establishments which housed them. The consequence was
the large-scale destruction or disappearance of their records."
6. HENNINGSTEN, G. and TEDESCHI, J., op. cit., pp 144-147
7. HENNINGSTEN, G. and TEDESCHI, J., idem., The figures quoted draw
only on the period of the 16th through the 18th centuries. No attempt
has been made to reflect trends from the 15th or earlier periods; that
is a subject for an entirely different study.
8. We know nothing of the arguments with which the Pope was
persuaded to give his assent to publication, however his agreement is
quite out of character. Clement XII is a friendly and outgoing man. A
measure of his character and personality lies in his ability to
maintain, even after his election, a warm, cordial relationship with the
rabidly anticlerical Voltaire. But at the time of his election in 1730,
he was already 78 years old and sick. By the time of the publication of
"In eminenti" in the eighth year of his reign he was, in addition,
Despite his infirmities which required him to conduct most of the
affairs of the Vatican from his bed, he was generally an able Pope. His
ability, however, lay in areas of administration, trade and finance. In
areas of politics and diplomacy Papal influence continued the downward
spiral which had been evident during the reigns of his several
9. "In eminenti" states the penalties as:
"Wherefore We command most strictly and in virtue of holy
obedience, all the faithful of whatever state, grade, condition,
order, dignity or pre-eminence, whether clerical or lay, secular
or regular, even those who are entitled to specific and individual
mention, that none, under any pretext or for any reason, shall
dare or presume to enter, propagate or support these aforesaid
societies of Liberi Muratori or Francs Massons [i.e., Freemasons],
or however else they are called, or to receive them in their
houses or dwellings or to hide them, be enrolled among them,
joined to them, be present with them, give power or permission for
them to meet elsewhere, to help them in any way, to give them in
any way advice, encouragement or support either openly or in
secret, directly or indirectly, on their own or through others;
nor are they to urge others or tell them, incite or persuade them
to be enrolled in such societies or to be counted among their
number, or to be present or to assist them in any way; but they
must stay completely clear of such Societies, Companies,
Assemblies, Meetings, Congregations or Conventicles, under pain of
excommunication for all the above mentioned people, which is
incurred by the very deed without any declaration being required,
and from which no one can obtain the benefit of absolution, other
than at the hour of death, except through Ourselves or the Roman
Pontiff of the time."
10. As an interesting sidelight, there are many recorded occasions
when Freemasons in the military on both sides of the American
Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War would meet together as
Masons, exchanging fraternal aid and assistance.
11. Some authorities state that prior to the union of the two English
Grand Lodges to form the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813, only
Christians (but not necessarily Catholics) could become Freemasons, and
that this requirement was removed to its present condition with the
Mackey [Mackey, A.G., ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FREEMASONRY, Jews,
Disqualification of] disputes this, stating that only in some of the
German Grand Lodges, most especially the Prussian, was the restriction
imposed. The restriction was removed at an early date due to objections
from the rank and file membership.
12. ROBINSON, J., Born In Blood, M. Evans, New York, 1989
13. To cite one remarkable example, see:
LEA, H.C., A History Of The Inquisition In The Middle Ages, New York,
Harbor Press, v. 3 p. 317:
"Portugal belonged ecclesiastically to the province of
Compostella, and the Bishop of Lisbon, commissioned to investigate
the Order [of the Temple], found no ground for the charges. The
fate of the Templars there was exceptionally fortunate, for King
Diniz, grateful for their services in his wars with the Saracens,
founded a new Order, that of Jesus Christ, or de Avis, and
procured its approval in 1318 from John XXII. To this safe refuge
the Templars and their lands were transferred, the commander and
many of the preceptors retaining their rank, and the new Order was
thus merely a continuation of the old."
14. LEA, H.C., op. cit., p. 316,
"In Castile no action seems to have been taken until the bull
Faciens misericordiam of August 12, 1308, was sent to the prelates
... . Fernando IV then ordered the Templars arrested, ... . There
was no alacrity, however, in pursuing the affair, for it was not
until April 15, 1310, that Archbishop Gonzalo of Toledo cited the
Master of Castile, ..., to appear before him at Toledo. ... The
only judicial action [in Europe, outside of France] of which we
have notice was that of the Council of Salamanca ..., where the
Templars were unanimously acquitted, and the cruel orders to
torture them issued the next year by Clement seem to have been
15. NEW CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA (1967 ed.)
One of the most influential of the numerous secret societies in
l9th-century Italy aiming at political and social betterment.
Origin, Organization, Membership. Many obscurities remain concerning
the Carbonari (literally charcoal burners). ... It is doubtful,
however, that the Carbonari anteceded the late 18th century. and it is
possible that the society was introduced to Naples early in the l9th
century by returning exiles or by French troops. ... Most Carbonari were
middle-class, militaries, petty bureaucrats, or peasants. Their aim was
to win national independence, institute constitutional and democratic
reforms, and broaden the franchise. Professedly they were Christians,
although anticlerical, and they utilized Christian symbolism. ...
16. Qui pluribus
Published by Pius IX on November 9, 1846
(To all bishops: on contemporary errors and the means of combatting
Declares objective is to protect religion; to guard papal
possessions, rights, privileges. Attacks compromises of
indifferentism; condemns rationalism and unlimited "progress";
condemns assault on celibacy of clergy; warns against false
teachers; points out communism as contrary to natural law. Reminds
rulers of duty to protect, encourage, and foster religion.
Expresses his concern over the philosophical perversion of the
young; warns against the contamination of anti-Catholic society.
17. Burns, E.M., Western Civilizations; Their History and Their
Culture third edition (1949), New York, W.W. Norton, p.618 ff
18. Multiplices inter
Published by Pius IX on September 25, 1865
(At the Consistory: condemnation of Freemasonry and other secret
Accuses Masonic association of conspiracy against the Church, God,
and civil society; reproves Catholic sovereigns for not uprooting
this sect; attributes revolutions and uprisings to Masonic
activity. Warns against designs of secret societies; denounces
clandestine meetings, secret oath, sanctions against violation of
rules; renews previous condemnations.
19. The biographical information on Pope Leo XIII is taken from:
ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, 1959, vol. 13, p. 928 ff
20. Perugia at that time was a known center of anti-Papal secret
societies, so it may be assumed that it was during his two years in this
post where he was first exposed to the Carbonari. It is possible that he
was also first exposed to Freemasonry during this period. While it is
not known if there were Lodges in Perugia at that time, there was a
significant level of dual membership between the two organizations.
21. The camerlingo is chief financial officer of the Vatican. Always
a Cardinal. Between the death of a Pope and the election of his
successor, or at any other time when there is a vacancy in the Papacy,
the camerlingo is in charge of Vatican affairs.
Published by Leo XIII on June 29, 1881
(On the origin of civil power)
Maintains Christianity is safeguard to political order; right to
rule comes from God; people respect legitimate authority; rulers
seek common good. Denies theory that civil society has arisen from
free consent of men; asserts all authority comes from God even
though men have a certain freedom to choose such forms of
government as they deem necessary; condemns naturalism as
culminating in socialism, communism, nihilism, leading to
government based on force and fear. Urges bishops to instruct
laity, to warn them against forbidden sects, secret societies.
23. Etsi nos
Published by Leo XIII on February 15, 1882
(To the bishops of Italy: on conditions in Italy)
Sets forth dangers to Catholicism: interference with Church;
expulsion of religious from convents; confiscation of Church
property; sanction of civil marriage; elimination of Church
control of education. Maintains Catholicism and nation fall
together: Christianity inherent in public life, source of unity,
safeguard of justice. Urges bishops to stir people to work for
preservation of the faith by: 1) promotion of associations for
religious instruction, Catholic life, charity; 2) use of press to
disseminate truth; 3) care in selection and education of priests.
24. Officio sanctissimo
Published by Leo XIII on December 22, 1887
(To the bishops of Bavaria: on the condition of the Church in Bavaria)
Surveys history of Bavaria; deplores present hostility toward
Church; offers counsel. Stresses education of clergy in tradition
of Fathers of the Church: appropriate to vocation, to contemporary
apostolate of example, teaching, refutation of error; emphasizes
obedience to hierarchy, respect for civil authority. Urges
education of children under auspices of Church; warns against
25. Dall'alto dell'Apostolico seggio [Ab Apostolici]
Published by Leo XIII on October 15, 1890
(To the bishops and people of Italy: on the destructive work of the
Freemasons in Italy)
Recapitulates facts of warfare of Masons against Church: overthrow
of civil power of papacy; suppression of religious orders;
obligatory military service for clerics; confiscation of Church
property; proclamation of civil marriage; State control of
education. Enumerates remedies: formation of learned and holy
clergy; Christian education of youth; extirpation of evil
doctrines: defense of Catholic truths; restoration of Christian
family life; exposure of conflict as essentially an attack on
26. Custodi di quella fede
(to the Italian people: Freemasonry in Italy)
Published by Leo XIII on December 8, 1892
Details method of working against Freemasonry. Warns Christians to
be on guard against first steps; parents to guard homes against
infiltration; laity to shun non-religious societies. Urges setting
up Catholic schools in opposition to neutral; charity against
philanthropy; religious asylums against houses of debauchery;
Catholic against impious press; Catholic congresses against
sectarian gatherings; Catholic circles against lodges; mutual aid
societies against Masonic counterpart.
27. Inimica vis
(To the bishops of Italy: Freemasonry in Italy)
Published by Leo XIII on December 8, 1892
Reiterates urgent necessity of combating evils of Freemasonry;
condemns claim that the State is superior to the Church and can
control property and functions of the Church; entreats bishops to
work for conversion of victims of the sect, to arouse in clergy
and people zealous love for religion.
(To the rulers and nations of the world: appeal for religious unity)
Published by Leo XIII on June 20, 1894
Urges union with Church of Rome; calls for unity of faith and
government. Appeals to separated Eastern churches, to recent
schismatic groups, to those in union with Rome (as safeguard).
Warns against Regalism and Freemasonry; enumerates benefits of
29. Annum ingressi
(To the bishops of the world: review of his pontificate)
Published by Leo XIII on March 19, 1902
Reviews twenty-five years of pontificate; warns that liberty,
peace are illusory apart from religion. Recalls instructions on
Christian philosophy, human liberty, Christian marriage,
Freemasonry, nature of the State, Christian constitution of
States, socialism, labor question, duties of Christian citizens,
and analogous subjects. Encourages bishops to continued resistance
of persecutions. Describes existing conditions: disorder in social
relations, in family life; prevalence of socialism and anarchism;
unjust warring of strong nations against weak; increase of
armaments. Urges resistance to atheism and Freemasonry; calls on
press for defense of Church; exhorts parents and teachers to give
Christian education to children, public officials to demonstrate
firmness in defense of principle, integrity of life.
30. Kbler-Ross, E., On Death And Dying, MacMillan, New York, 1974
31. Humanum genus
Published by Leo XIII on April 10, 1884
Reviews warnings of previous pontificates; recalls own refutations
of Masonic opinions. Treats specifically of Masonic society and of
organized groups bound to Freemasonry by community of purpose and
thought. Defines aim as overthrow of Christian order; teaching as
naturalistic: human reason supreme, teaching and authority of
Church of no civil consequence; no possible certainty about God,
soul, immortality; complete equality of all men; State control of
marriage, education; moral license. Confirms previous
condemnations of Freemasonry; forbids Catholics to join Masonic
sect; prescribes Christian philosophy as protection against error;
urges clergy and laity to win men to the Church; recommends
membership in Third Order of St. Francis, restoration of Catholic
guilds or associations.
32. As one example, "Humanum genus" contains the following:
"Nay, there are in them many secrets which are by law carefully
concealed not only from the profane, but also from many
associated, viz., the last and intimate intentions, the hidden and
unknown chiefs, the hidden and secret meetings, the resolutions
and methods and means by which they will be carried into
execution. Hence the difference of rights and of duties among the
members; hence the distinction of orders and grades and the severe
discipline by which they are ruled."
This particular canard is usually attributed to Leo Taxil. "Humanum
genus" was published in 1884, however; Taxil did not publish his
embellished form of this slander until 1891.
33. Summary of that portion of the pastoral letter of December 7,
1884 which treats of Freemasonry.
Third plenary council of Bishops, held in Baltimore issues a
pastoral letter completely supporting "Humanum genus", condemning
Freemasonry and all "secret societies". Strongly discourages any
lay questioning of the matter, apparently blocking any possibility
for exception or compromise; "Whenever, therefore, the Church has
spoken authoritatively with regard to any society, her decision
ought to be final for every Catholic. He ought to know that the
Church has not acted hastily or unwisely, or mistakenly; he should
be convinced that any worldly advantages which he might derive
from his membership of such society, would be a poor substitute
for the membership, the sacraments, and the blessings of the
Church of Christ; ... "
34. In 1917 Benedict XV promulgates new code of Canon Law containing
Art. 2335, which condemns Freemasons to automatic and irrevocable
[I have been unable to find the text of Canon 2335 (1917) in
English. The following is a precis prepared for use by the Catholic
d) Those who enroll themselves in Masonic sects or other similar
associations, the very purpose of whose being, or at least whose
activity is concerned with plotting against all lawful authority,
and especially against that of the Church, are also guilty of a
crime of disobedience. The penalty in these cases is
excommunication l.s., reserved simply to the Holy See. Clerics
and religious are to be punished as set down in the previous
paragraph, besides the fact that such cases are also referred to
the Holy Office.
35. The pertinent pronouncements of Paul VI
Published on November 21, 1964
Decrees positive Catholic response to ecumenism as a means
to bring non-Catholic believers into the Church.
Published on October 28, 1965
Decrees tolerance for, and an exchange of ideas with,
non-Catholic beliefs and philosophies.
36. "Dignitatis humanae" declaration published by Vatican II
on December 7, 1965
"The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a
right to religious freedom. Freedom of this kind means that all
men should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals,
social groups and every human power so that, within due limits,
nobody is forced to act against his convictions nor is anyone to
be restrained from acting in accordance with his convictions in
religious matters in private or in public, alone or in
associations with others. The Council further declares that the
right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the
human person as known through the revealed word of God and by
reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom
must be given such recognition in the constitutional order of
society as will make it a civil right."
37. La Masoneria Despues del Concilio (Masonry since the
[Vatican] Council) published in Spain (1968). Author, J.A. Ferrer
" ... regular Freemasonry, 'based on belief in God, could not
stand condemned under the Papal Bulls', whose charges should be
directed only against the irregular Grand Lodges which preach and
practise atheism and anti-clericalism."
38. Carr, Harry, The Freemason At Work, Lewis Masonic, 1976
In 1971 Bro. Carr again sought an interview with Cardinal Heenan,...
Bro. Carr recorded, as nearly as possible, the Archbishop's own words:
"We had a letter some time ago from one of my priests, asking for
guidance about a Protestant in his parish, married to a Roman
Catholic lady, their children all being raised very respectably in
the Catholic faith. The husband, a freemason, out of love for his
wife and family, was anxious to be received into the Catholic
faith, but without having to give up his Freemasonry. The priest
had spoken very highly of both the husband and the wife.
"I answered to the effect that this was a matter for the Holy See
to decide, and that I would write to ask for an official ruling,
which I did. I am delighted to say that the reply was all that we
could have desired. The husband could be received into the Church
of Rome 'without restriction', this meaning that he would not have
to give up his Freemasonry, and that he would be deemed as good a
Catholic as any born in the faith who have practiced it all their
"Within a few weeks after this, a masonic friend of the husband,
in the same parish and in exactly the same circumstances, made a
similar application and 'both have now been received into the
39. Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pulls the teeth
from Art. 2335 of the Code of Canon Law. (July 19, 1974)
"The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ... has
ruled that Canon 2335 no longer automatically bars a Catholic from
membership of masonic groups ... And so, a Catholic who joins the
freemasons is excommunicated only if the policies and actions of
the freemasons in his area are known to be hostile to the Church
This document was signed by Cardinal Seper, Prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith.
" ... Suffice to say that in July 1974 Cardinal Heenan received a
communication from the Holy See announcing that the Papal ban had
been lifted. Roman Catholics everywhere [but not Officers of the
Church of Rome] are now able to join the Craft without the penalty
of excommunication and already a number of excellent Roman
Catholic Candidates have joined the Craft in England." [See
Carr's, "The Freemason at Work" pages 277-281].
40. Canon 1374 states that:
"A person who joins an association which plots against the Church
is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes
office in such an association is to be punished with an
41. Quaesitum est
(Declaration on Masonic Associations published on November 26, 1983)
The first three paragraphs suffice to give the flavor of the
"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
"This sacred congregation is in a position to reply that this
circumstance is 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
associations 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."
This pronouncement, made during the tenure of Joseph, Cardinal
Ratzinger as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, returns all of the previous condemnations of Freemasonry; only
the punishment meted out to Catholics joining Masonic bodies is
changed. It completely nullifies the earlier pronouncement made under
the prefecture of Cardinal Seper in 1974, and compromises Canon 1374 in
the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
Since it was published prior to the effective date of the Canon,
however, some Catholic dioceses are holding that the Canon supersedes
it. On that basis, they are granting permission for Catholics to join
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