EWTN Catholic Q&A
Free Masons
Question from Artur Suski on 03-18-2006:


I was having a discussion with a fellow Catholic about the Free Masons, the Masonic Order, and He told me that there used to be something in Cannon Law forbidding Catholics from joining, or getting involved with the Free Masons (and rightly so), and he said that that part of the Cannon Law was revised and that was taken out and is on notice....what does that mean? Is it accurate what he said? Also, he claims that it is OK for Catholics to be members now, he said that he knows some Catholic Priests that are members of the Free Masons, is this right?

Thank you for your time and patience!

God Bless


Answer by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on 03-19-2006:

The Catholic Church has a history of over two centuries of condemning Masonry in the strongest terms and with excommunications. This is due to the historical origins of the Masons as a subversive group that opposed the Christian faith and plotted against the Church. The 1917 Code of Canon law explicitly mentioned the Masons by name. The 1983 code, currently in effect, does not explicitly mention the Masons but rather prohibits membership in forbidden societies in general (c. 1374), especially for members of the clergy (c. 278). This broadening was meant to include other groups (e.g., it could apply to Catholics for Free Choice) in the prohibition.

This removal of an explicit reference to the Masons left doubt, especially after attempts at dialoguing with the Masons during the two decades after Vatican II, about whether membership in a Masonic lodge was still prohibited. In response to this doubt and confusion, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on November 26, 1983 issued the "Declaration on Masonic Associations." According to this statement, Catholic membership in Masonic lodges is still prohibited.

There has been a great deal of debate about the legally binding nature of this statement, especially in countries where the Masonic lodges have not had the same anti-religious basis, have not been guilty of subversive actions, and do not plot against the Christian faith. For example, there seems to be a significant difference between the beliefs, principles, and actions of the Masonic groups in Europe as opposed to the United States.

Still, in the U.S., the Pastoral Research and Practices Committee Report of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Masonry and Naturalistic Religion," issued 1985, stated: "Even though Masonic organizations may not in particular cases plot against the faith, it would still be wrong to join them because their basic principles are irreconcilable with those of the Catholic faith." However, this is not a law, and local bishops are competent to make judgments about whether Catholics in their dioceses may join Masonic lodges.

I think that it would be helpful for those involved in Masonry to read the list of reasons the bishops of Germany gave in 1980 for insisting on a continued condemnation of Masonry. The following 12 items are areas of Masonic teaching that, according to the German bishops, are at variance with the Churchís belief and with which the Church could never reconcile itself (from the German in an article by Ronny E. Jenkins in the canon law journal The Jurist, 1996): "

1. The Masonic World View. The Masons promote a freedom from dogmatic adherence to any one set of revealed truths. Such a subjective relativism is in direct conflict with the revealed truths of Christianity.

2. The Masonic Notion of Truth. The Masons deny the possibility of an objective truth, placing every truth instead in a relative context.

3. The Masonic Notion of Religion. Again, the Masonic teaching holds a relative notion of religions as all concurrently seeking the truth of the Absolute.

4. The Masonic Notion of God. The Masons hold a deistic notion of God which excludes any personal knowledge of the deity.

5. The Masonic Notion of God and Revelation. The deistic notion of God precludes the possibility of Godís self-revelation to humankind.

6. Masonic Toleration. The Masons promote a principle of toleration regarding ideas. That is, their relativism teaches them to be tolerant of ideas divergent or contrary to their own. Such a principle not only threatens the Catholic position of objective truth, but it also threatens the respect due to the Churchís teaching office.

7. The Masonic Rituals. The rituals of the first three Masonic grades have a clear sacramental character about them, indicating that an actual transformation of some sort is undergone by those who participate in them.

8. The Perfection of Humankind. The Masonic rituals have as an end the perfection of mankind. But Masonry provides all that is necessary to achieve this perfection. Thus, the justification of a person through the work of Christ is not an essential or even necessary aspect of the struggle for perfection.

9. The Spirituality of the Masons. The Masonic Order makes a total claim on the life of the member. True adherence to the Christian faith is thereby jeopardized by the primary loyalty due the Masonic Order.

10. The Diverse Divisions within the Masons. The Masons are comprised of lodges with varying degrees of adherence to Christian teaching. Atheistic lodges are clearly incompatible with Catholicism. But even those lodges comprised of Christian members seek merely to adapt Christianity to the overall Masonic world-view. This is unacceptable.

11. The Masons and the Catholic Church. Even those Catholic-friendly lodges that would welcome the Churchís members as its own are not compatible with Catholic teaching, and so closed to Catholic members.

12. The Masons and the Protestant Church. While a 1973 meeting of Protestant Churches determined that individual Protestants could decide whether to be members of both the Christian Church and the Freemasons, it included in its decision the caveat that those Christians must always take care not to lessen the necessity of grace in the justification of the person."

I am not an expert on Masonry but only on canon law. If someone is involved in Masonry here in the U.S., I think that person should carefully consider these doctrinal concerns of the German bishops, and of course a Catholic should consider the statements I quoted above and defer to the judgment of his local bishop in case of any doubt.