Freemasonry

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Freemasonry, understood as an identifiable movement with a relatively cohesive set of doctrines and rituals, begins "with the foundation of the Grand Lodge of England, 24 June, 1717, and its essential organization was completed in 1722 by the adoption of the new Book of Constitutions and of the three degrees: apprentice, fellow, master."[1]

For three centuries, whenever the question has been asked whether a Catholic can, in good faith, be a member of the Freemasons, the answer of the Church has been "no."

In the 1917 Code of Canon Law, membership in the Freemasons was punished by an automatic excommunication.[2] As shown below, the penalty of automatic excommunication was removed from the 1983 Code of Canon Law, but participation in Freemasonry is still strictly prohibited for Catholics under pain of committing a grave sin; those who are publicly obstinate in maintaining membership in the organization may incur excommunication or other penalties as well.

Canon law

Canon 1364
Can. 1364 §1. Without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 194, §1, n. 2, an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication; in addition, a cleric can be punished with the penalties mentioned in ⇒ can. 1336, §1, nn. 1, 2, and 3.
§2. If contumacy of long duration or the gravity of scandal demands it, other penalties can be added, including dismissal from the clerical state.
Canon 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.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Emphasis added. MXM, SJ.

"Declaration on Masonic Associations"
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 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.[3]
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.[4]
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
Prefect
+ Fr. Jerome Hamer, O.P.
Titular Archbishop of Lorium
Secretary

Commentaries

Catholic Answers, "What is the Catholic Church's official position on Freemasonry?"
The Church has imposed the penalty of excommunication on Catholics who become Freemasons. The penalty of excommunication for joining the Masonic Lodge was explicit in the 1917 code of canon law (canon 2335), and it is implicit in the 1983 code (canon 1374).
Because the revised code of canon law is not explicit on this point, some drew the mistaken conclusion that the Church's prohibition of Freemasonry had been dropped. As a result of this confusion, shortly before the 1983 code was promulgated, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement indicating that the penalty was still in force. This statement was dated November 26, 1983 and may be found in Origins 13/27 (Nov. 15, 1983), 450.[5]
Comment: The statement in this quotation that "the penalty [is] still in force" is not quite accurate. The prohibition against Catholics participating in Freemasonry is still in force, but whether a particular Catholic Freemason incurs the full ecclesiastical (Church) penalty of latae sententiae excommunication depends on that person's particular circumstances. To do so, the person must knowingly and willingly act as a heretic in violation of canon 1364.
Fr. William Saunders, "Catholics and the Freemason 'Religion.'"
On Nov. 26, 1983, with the approval of Pope John Paul II, the Sacred Congregation reiterated the ban on Catholics joining the Masons: "The Church's negative position on Masonic association ... remains unaltered, since their principles have always been regarded as irreconcilable with the Church's doctrine. Hence, joining them remains prohibited by the Church. Catholics enrolled in masonic associations are involved in serious sin and may not approach Holy Communion." However, neither this declaration nor the 1983 Code of Canon Law imposed the penalty of excommunication on Catholics belonging to the Masons.
John Martignoni, "What is the Catholic Church's position on Freemasonry?"
The Church, through its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has formally declared that Catholics who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion. This declaration, which is the most recent teaching of the Church, has affirmed nearly 300 years of papal pronouncements against Freemasonry on the grounds that the teachings of the Lodge are contrary to Catholic faith and morals.
The Church’s declaration on Freemasonry exposes Catholic Masons to a number of penalties under canon law. For example, a Catholic who is aware that the Church authoritatively judges membership in Freemasonry to be gravely sinful must not approach Holy Communion (c. 916). The Church imposes the duty upon all grave sinners not to make a sacrilegious communion. Such a Catholic Mason who is aware of the grave sin must receive absolution in a sacramental confession before being able to receive communion again, unless there is a grave reason and no opportunity to confess (c. 916). This confession, in order to be valid, also requires the Catholic Mason to renounce his Masonic membership.
Further, because membership in Freemasonry is an external or public condition, the Catholic Mason can be refused Holy Communion by the pastors of the Church for obstinately persevering in his Masonic membership (c. 915). Such a Catholic Mason would also be forbidden from receiving the Anointing of the Sick (c. 1007) as well as ecclesiastical funeral rites if public scandal were to result.[6]
Canon 1364 also imposes an automatic excommunication upon apostates, heretics, or schismatics. This canon could also apply to Catholic Masons. If, for example, a Catholic Mason embraced the theological teachings of Freemasonry that the Church has condemned (indifferentism, syncretism), he would be in heresy by virtue of his belief in these teachings. Further, if a Catholic Mason knew the Church opposes membership in Freemasonry, and yet adamantly and persistently refused to submit to the pope’s authority in precluding his membership in the Lodge, he may also find himself in schism. Catholic Masons could also be subject to canon 1374 which imposes an interdict or just penalty upon those who join associations that plot against the Church.
For the canonical penalties to apply, the Catholic Mason would have to act in a gravely imputable way (that is, the Catholic would have to be aware of the Church’s teaching on Freemasonry and, after being warned about it, choose to disregard it). In my personal experience, a fair number of Catholic Masons do act in a gravely imputable way in regard to their Masonic membership. In these cases, the canonical penalties, including excommunication, apply. The Church's penalties are not meant to alienate the person on whom the penalty is levied. Instead, the penalties are meant to communicate to the person the gravity of his conduct, encourage his repentance and reconciliation with the Church, and bring him back into the one fold of Christ. After all, the mission of the Church is the salvation of souls.

References

  1. Catholic Encyclopedia, "Freemasonry."
  2. Wikipedia, footnote in "Papal ban of Freemasonry": "Those who join a Masonic sect or other societies of the same sort, which plot against the Church or against legitimate civil authority, incur ipso facto an excommunication simply reserved to the Holy See." Canon 2335, 1917 Code of Canon Law, quoted in "Canon Law regarding Freemasonry," 1917-1983, excerpted from Canon Law, A Text and Commentary, by T. Lincoln Bouscaren, S.J. and Adam C. Ellis, S.J., hosted on the website of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, retrieved on 9 April.
  3. The "wider categories" referred to are probably apostasy, heresy, and schism (canon 1064) or persons who join "an association which plots against the Church" (canon 1074).
  4. Cf. AAS 73 1981 pp. 240-241; English language edition of L'Osservatore Romano, 9 March 1981.
  5. The statement from the CDF is reproduced in full on this page.
  6. Canon 1184, §1, °3.


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