Papal Condemnations of the Lodge

Author: William J. Whalen

Papal Condemnations of the Lodge

by William J. Whalen

Eight Popes Have Condemned Masonry Since 1738

No one could accuse the Catholic Church of disguising her antipathy to Freemasonry. Scarcely 20 years after the organization of modern Masonry in 1717 Pope Clement XII forbade membership in the lodge and since then seven other popes have warned the faithful against the dangers of Masonic naturalism to the Christian faith.

Catholics who join the Masonic sect are automatically excommunicated. Except at the point of death only the pope or his delegated representative can lift this excommunication in the external forum. Such a "Catholic" Mason deprives himself of the spiritual benefits of the Church, may not receive the sacraments, and cannot be given Christian burial nor be interred in consecrated ground. A Mason who desires to enter the Church must cut all ties with the lodge. A Mason who wishes to marry a Catholic woman must reveal his lodge affiliation in signing the pre-nuptial questionnaire.

Excommunication is a drastic penalty but its object is to cure the offenders and bring them back to the Church. Obviously a non-Catholic cannot be excluded from the communion of the faithful to which he does not belong. Masonic jibing at the in effectiveness of papal excommunication for Protestant and Jewish Masons betrays a complete misunderstanding of the term. The Church does not excommunicate Masons. She excommunicates Catholics who freely elect to worship the Grand Architect of the lodge rather than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In previous chapters we have examined the chief reasons for the Church's severe attitude toward Masonry. Masonry constitutes a religion of naturalism which considers the basic Christian doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, the necessity of baptism, and the role of the Church in the plan of salvation to be quite incidental. The lodge furthermore exacts a series of oaths from its candidates which cannot be called valid extrajudicial oaths; those who swear such oaths, agreeing to the most horrible self-mutilation in order to protect a few passwords and secret grips, are objectively guilty of either vain or rash swearing. Third, the Masonic order has historically sought to destroy the Catholic Church and to substitute a purely secular society. Posing as nonpartisan in religious affairs the lodge plumps for abolishment of parochial schools, easy divorce laws, cremation, suppression of religious orders especially the Society of Jesus, and a separation of Church and State never envisioned by the framers of the First Amendment. In addition, American Freemasonry discriminates against Negroes, promotes a spirit of religious indifference, lends itself to manifold injustices through preferential treatment of Masons by Masons, and expunges the name of Christ from lodge prayers and from Bible passages used in the ritual.

Pope Clement directed his bull In (April 28, 1738) against Francis, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who had sponsored Masonic lodges within his domain. The bull read in part:

It has become known to us, even in truth by public rumor, that great and extensive progress is being made by, and the strength daily increasing of, some Societies, Meetings, Gatherings, Conventicles or Lodges commonly known as of , or Freemasons or some other nomenclature according to difference of language, in which men of any religion and sect whatsoever, content with a certain affectation of natural virtue, are associated mutually in a close and exclusive bond in accordance with laws and statutes framed for themselves; and are bound as well by a stringent oath sworn upon the Sacred Volume, as by the imposition of heavy penalties to conceal under inviolable silence, what they secretly do in their meetings.

But since it is the nature of wickedness to betray itself, and to cry aloud so as to reveal itself, hence the aforesaid Societies or Conventicles have excited so strong suspicion in the minds of the faithful that to enroll oneself in these Lodges is quite the same, in the judgment of prudent and virtuous men, as to incur the brand of depravity and perverseness, for if they were not acting ill, they would not by any means have such a hatred of the light. And this repute has spread to such a degree that in very many countries the societies just mentioned have been proscribed, and with foresight banished long since as though hostile to the safety of kingdoms.

We, accordingly, turning over in our mind the very serious injuries which are in the highest degree inflicted by such Societies or Conventicles not merely on the tranquillity of the temporal state, but also on the spiritual welfare of souls, and perceiving that they are inconsistent alike with civil and canonical sanctions, being taught by the divine word that it is our duty, by day and night, like a faithful servant, and a prudent ruler of his master's household, to watch that no persons of this kind like thieves break into the house, and like foxes strive to ravage the vineyard, that is to say, thereby pervert the hearts of the simple and privily shoot at the innocent; in order to close the wide road which might be opened thereby for perpetrating iniquity with impunity and for other just and reasonable causes known to ourselves, have determined and decreed that these same Societies, Meetings, Gatherings, Lodges or Conventicles, of , or Freemasons, or by whatever other name called, herein acting on the advice of some Venerable Brethren of ours, Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, and also of our own motion, and from our certain knowledge, and mature deliberation, and in the plenitude of Apostolic Power, should be condemned and prohibited as by this present Constitution we do condemn and prohibit them.

Wherefore we direct the faithful in Christ, all and singly, of whatever status, grade, dignity and preeminence, whether laics or clerics as well secular as regular, even those worthy of specific and individual mention and expression, strictly and in virtue of holy obedience, that no one, under any pretext or farfetched color dare or presume to enter the above mentioned Societies of , Freemasons, or otherwise named, or to propagate, foster and receive them whether in their houses or elsewhere, and to conceal them, or be present at them, or to afford them the opportunity or facilities for being convened anywhere, or otherwise to render them advice, help or favor, openly or in secret, directly or indirectly, of themselves or through the agency of others in whatever way; and likewise to exhort, induce, incite or persuade others to be enrolled in, reckoned among, or take part in Societies of this kind, or to aid and foster them in any way whatsoever; but in every particular to abstain utterly as they are in duty bound from the same Societies, Meetings, Assemblies, Gatherings, Lodges, or Conventicles, on pain of excommunication to be incurred by all who in the above ways offend-to be incurred ipso facto without any declaration, and that from this excommunication no one, except on the point of death, can obtain benefit of absolution except through Us, or the Roman Pontiff for the time being.

Communications in 1738 did not encompass the daily newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, and motion pictures of today, and hence the Catholic world did not immediately know of the contents of the bull. According to ancient Church practice a bull was not promulgated in a given diocese until it is posted and means are obtained to enforce it. Where Masonry was not yet a problem or where secular authorities prevailed upon individual bishops the promulgation was delayed for many years. To add to the confusion a bogus bull was circulated which asked the faithful to support the lodges whenever possible!

Consequently we find that some Catholics, particularly in Ireland, continued to join the lodge after the papal pronouncement. Some served as Worshipful Masters and some lodges were composed entirely of Catholic priests and laymen. Even the Irish patriot Daniel O'Connell served as Master of Dublin Lodge No. 189 after his initiation in 1799. In 1837 he testified that he had renounced the lodge some years before. Lord Petre, a prominent Roman Catholic, became Grand Master of the English lodge in 1772 and served in this capacity for five years.

Daniel Carroll, brother of the first American bishop, was active in Masonry and apparently Bishop Carroll did not consider the papal ban applicable to this country until sometime after 1800. For example, the bishop discussed the various censures of the Holy See on the lodge question in a letter to a layman in 1794. He added, "I do not pretend that these decrees are received generally by the Church, or have full authority in this diocese." A convent of nuns in Nantes sent a Masonic apron to George Washington as a present. Masons laid the cornerstone for St. Mary's church, first Catholic church in Albany and first cathedral of that diocese. Catholics in the Louisiana Territory were likely to be members of the lodge and Father Sedella, pastor of the New Orleans cathedral, was buried in Masonic regalia.

Clement's successor, Pope Benedict XIV, was equally adamant against the spreading secret societies, especially Freemasonry. He asked Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria, to disband the lodge in Vienna. Police almost arrested her husband, Francis, when they raided the lodge room but the Duke escaped through a back door. The captured Masons were detained for a day or two but the lodge soon resumed underground activities. Benedict issued a second bull in 1751 reiterating the penalty of excommunication.

Present-day readers may consider some of the papal charges to be wide of the mark. Masons delight in pointing to distinguished American statesmen and asking if these are the depraved and perverted men whom the popes identify. At the same time the only Catholic Church which Masonic polemicists seem to know at firsthand is the Church of the Spanish Inquisition. Masons should remember that these early bulls against the lodge were written long before the American Revolution. When the popes say "now" in these bulls they mean the mid-1700's and when they spoke of Masonry they meant the European Masonry which they knew. That the charges in these pronouncements blacken the character of the neighborhood druggist or filling station operator who joined the local F. & A. M. Lodge to sell more pills or gasoline or just to get away for an evening with the boys would be a just criticism if we ignored the time and circumstances. Today, more than two centuries later, the character of individual Masons is not the point; Catholics are warned against the enticements of the lodge but not because the lodge promotes communism or perversion or subversion or carousing or atheism.

Pius VII (1821), Leo XII (1825), Pius VIII (1829), and Gregory XVI (1832) issued bulls against Freemasonry and the host of secret societies which were infesting the continent and thriving on intrigue, assassination, and subversion. Freethinkers flocked to the lodges as the natural base from which to attack Church and State. Today the same sort of person would naturally gravitate toward the Socialist and Communist parties which promise to overthrow the present social order. Italian Masonry was disrupted by feuds and schisms but the chief leaders of the Italian unification movement were all Masons: Mazzini, Garibaldi, and Cavour.

Pope Pius IX issued six bulls on Freemasonry between 1846 and 1873 His 1865 Allocution pointed out:

Among the numerous machinations and artifices by which the enemies of the Christian name have tried to attack the Church of God, and sought to shake it and besiege it by efforts superfluous in truth must undoubtedly be reckoned that perverse society of men called Masonic, which at first confined to darkness and obscurity, now comes into light for the common ruin of religion and human society.

Bishop John McGill of Richmond castigated the lodge in a pastoral letter published in 1884:

(Masonry) professes a great respect for religion, declaring that only men who respect religion can be members, and it amuses its members with a display of the Bible and certain prayers and religious terms, and while it inculcates the belief that the love of man and mere human virtues are all-sufficient and alone necessary, and in this manner it more effectually combats Christianity than can be done by the hosts of immoral and infidel writers who are openly laboring for its destruction. It is, mighty in its agency, because it professes to dispose of the goods of the present life. It places its sword at the entrance of all the avenues of trade, business and professional life, and gives the accolade of patronage and success only to those who have learned its catechism and been initiated through the means of its supernatural signs. Its influence seriously affects all who refuse to enroll their names upon its list, upon all the fields of competition and follows its members with the benefits of aid and protection upon the battlefields, in the prisons, before the tribunals of justice and at the hustings. It throws the veil of concealment over its chief end and its internal administration by the requirements of a solemn oath of secrecy, and only makes itself known to the public by its festive processions with dazzling banners and regalia, and by its bountiful donations and timely assistance to the widows and orphans of deceased members.

The notorious Leo Taxil case illustrates the credibility of some Catholics on the subject of Masonry. Although the hoax was exposed, some of the fantastic ideas about Masonry linger in Catholic folklore. Likewise, Masonic partisans point to the Taxil case as proof positive that the Church's case against the lodge is built on falsehoods and misunderstandings.

Taxil, a French anticlerical journalist, had written a sensational pot boiler called and he now saw another chance to get rich quick and humiliate the Church he despised. He pretended conversion, recanted his atheist writings, and was received into the Church. He published a series of books entitled in which he accused the lodges of demon worship, orgies, spiritualism, Black Masses, etc. Masons were guilty of every crime from ritual murder to blasphemy according to convert Taxil who added that worship of Satan was the object of the higher degrees. He claimed that Charleston, S. C., then headquarters of the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction, was the fountainhead of diabolical Masonry with Pike as the Masonic pope. The high priestess of higher Masonry, a being with supernatural powers who was known as "Diana," rebelled when Pike commanded her to desecrate a host. She too authored books on Masonry which were ghost written by Taxil.

Taxil was acclaimed as an outstanding authority on the inner workings of Masonry and was featured speaker at an anti-Masonic congress at Trent in 1896. The 1000 delegates clamored for an appearance by the mysterious Diana and Taxil promised to produce her in Paris on Easter Monday, 1897. Instead the anti-Masonic mountebank astonished his admirers by announcing that his conversion 12 years earlier was a pretense, Diana a myth, and his revelations pure fiction.

The unbelievable gullibility of some Catholics in the Taxil case may serve as a wholesome lesson in examining Masonry. The Christian case against the lodge will never be served by checking intelligence and common sense at the door. During the course of research on this book the author has heard tales of Masonic doings hardly less incredible than Taxil's famous fabrications. One clergyman solemnly described the death lottery in which all 33rd degree Masons participate. Every year one name is drawn and the winner (loser) must agree to commit suicide in the following year for the greater glory of Freemasonry!

On the other hand, we cannot absolve the Masons for resorting to wild exaggeration and fables in seeking to discredit the papal condemnations. For years they circulated the canard that Popes Benedict XIV and Pius IX had themselves been initiated into the lodge. Such preposterous stories have been retold in the pages of the New Age although they have the same sort of historical basis as the legend of Pope Joan. In a solemn allocution on April 20, 1849, Pius IX referred to the rumor about his Masonic initiation and denounced it as "the blackest of all calumnies."

One of the greatest modern popes, Leo XIII, was also one of Masonry's stanches" foes. This has embarrassed those Masons who argue that only political reactionaries among the hierarchy used the lodge as a red herring to divert the attention of the people from needed social reforms. Because of its paramount importance in understanding the position of the Church on Freemasonry we have reproduced the encyclical, . In this 1884 encyclical Pope Leo indicates that the human race is divided into two opposing camps, one under God and the other under Satan. "At every period of time each has been in conflict with the other, with a variety and multiplicity of weapons, and of warfare, although not always with equal ardor and assault. At this period, however, the partisans of evil seem to be combining together, and to be struggling with united vehemence, led on or assisted by that strongly organized and widespread association called the Freemasons," declared the pontiff. Of course, the Holy Father did not mean that all Masons are wicked and all Christians, saintly. He is speaking of the spirit of the Church and the spirit of Masonic naturalism as unalterably opposed to one another. Pike replied to the pope's denunciation by delivering a Praelocution in October, 1884. This consisted mainly in a recital of alleged horrors of the Inquisition and misdeeds of the Church of Rome. Said the head of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, "If, in other countries, Freemasonry has lost sight of the Ancient Landmarks, even tolerating communism and atheism, it is better to endure ten years of these evils than it would be to live a week under the devilish tyranny of the Inquisition and of the black soldiery of Loyola. Atheism is a dreary unbelief, but it at least does not persecute, torture, or roast men who believe there is a God." Tragically, history and international Communism have proved General Pike to be wrong.

The General went out of his way to deny any basic distinction between American and Latin and Continental Masonry:

It is not when the powers of the Papacy are concentrated to crush the Freemasonry of the Latin Kingdoms and Republics of the world, that the Masons of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in the United States will, from any motive whatever, proclaim that they have no sympathy with the Masons of the Continent of Europe or with those of Mexico or of the South American Republics. If these fall into errors of practice or indulge in extravagances of dogma, we will dissent and remonstrate; but we will not forget that the Freemasonry of our Rite and of the French Rite has always been the Apostle of Civil and Religious Liberty, and that the blood of Spanish and other Latin Freemasons has again and again glorified and sanctified the implements of torture, the scaffold and the stake, of the Papacy and the Inquisition.

In a later reply to the encyclical Pike boasts:

It is the crowning glory of Freemasonry that, requiring only that a Candidate shall believe and put his trust in a living and personal God, a beneficent and protecting Providence, to whom it is not folly to pray; and shall believe in the continued existence of the Soul of man after the death of the body, it receives into its Lodges the Christian of every sect the Hebrew, the Moslem and the Parsee, and unites them in the holy bonds of brotherhood.

Pope Leo's final word on Freemasonry was delivered in 1902. The official position of the Church regarding membership in the lodge was stated in the Code of Canon Law issued by Benedict XV in 1917. Since then the Holy See has been preoccupied with the immense problems of two world wars, the rise of nationalism, Fascism, and Nazism, the tremendous advance of atheistic Communism which has engulfed 800 million people, the possibilities of H-bomb annihilation. The position of the Church on Freemasonry could not be made clearer and the recent pontiffs have not felt the need to restate what their predecessors have repeatedly declared.

The present Holy Father, however, may have had Masonry in mind in his 1955 May Day address when he warned, "Laws and institutions are of little worth if the ordinary man sees in his daily life that everything depends on influential connections which he, unlike others, does not possess; or if he suspects that behind the facade of what is called the State there lies concealed the manipulations of powerful organized groups."

For more than 200 years the Catholic Church has called attention to the anti-Christian basis of modern Masonry. What originated as Catholic guilds engaged in erecting the magnificent cathedrals of the Middle Ages has become one of the implacable enemies of the Church. The points on which the lodge stands condemned are not the peculiarities of the French Grand Orient or other "schismatic" Masonic bodies. The recent popes, particularly Leo XIII, were well aware that the bulk of the world's Masons were English and American. Their lodges have been condemned for their religious naturalism not their atheism, for their immoral oaths, for their historic if technically unofficial anticlericalism. As we shall see, millions of Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians belong to denominations which join in warning against affiliation with the Masonic sect.

Chapter 8 of "Christianity and American Freemasonry" by William J. Whalen, published by The Bruce Publishing Company. Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN