Dear Father | Catholic Church maintains longstanding ban on joining the Masons

I was discussing the Masons with some friends and we were confused;
some thought it was now OK for Catholics to join them, and others said
that wasn’t true. Which is it?

Freemasonry is still condemned by the Church and any Catholic who attempts to join them incurs excommunication. This prohibition has been in force from the very origins of Freemasonry and has never changed. This is a very serious penalty and is only applied when very serious matters are involved. The Church considers Freemasonry to be one of those matters.

There were two relatively recent considerations that made it seem as though Freemasonry were something a Catholic could join. First is the fact that Freemasonry in the United States is a bit different in its objectives and functions from its European counterpart; and second, there was a change in the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law that seemed to remove the penalty of excommunication on Catholics who join the Masons.

The 1917 code had explicitly stated that joining the Masons was grounds for excommunication and the 1983 code merely implied it. Realizing this confusion, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) issued a proclamation dispelling all doubt and reaffirming the long-standing ban.

It is true that Freemasonry here is different from Europe. Historically, European Freemasonry has been belligerently and virulently anti-Catholic, often using its vast wealth and influence to persecute the Catholic Church. Freemasonry even had a hand in the bitter persecutions of the Church in Mexico under Plutarco Calles in the early 20th century. While no friend of the Church, American Freemasonry, especially in more recent days, has not been so overt an enemy of the Church. In our times, the Masonic Lodge is most often a social and fraternal organization, doing a certain amount of valuable community service.

Even granting that, the condemnation of Freemasonry is legitimate for many reasons. First, Freemasonry may have all the trappings of religion, butseeks to replace true religion with its own unorthodox beliefs and practices.

At its best, it is a naturalistic religion, which means that it is a false religion, and when one submits to its various rites of initiation, he is, at least formally, embracing that heterodox and peculiar understanding of the purpose of life and the means of salvation.

The 1983 decree cited above sums it up thus: "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 remains forbidden. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion."

Third, the Knights of Columbus are so much better in every conceivable way that no Catholic should ever give Freemasonry even a first thought, much less a second. And the Knights are, by the way, the best cooks in North America!

Msgr. Mitas is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Union.

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