There are a lot of groups in the United States that have religious undertones or encourage their members to be active in their church. In most cases, these groups work directly with religious institutions to further their beliefs. There are times, however, when the goals or beliefs of the two entities do not mesh well. This can result in the church dissuading their members from participating in these activities. In the case of the Catholic church and the Freemasons, this is the case.
Can Catholics be Masons? The Masons do NOT ban Catholics from joining their organization if they want. However, the Catholic Church DOES prohibit the joining of the Masons organization. So, technically Catholics CAN be Masons, but if they do so, they will be sinning against the Church.
Who are the Masons?
Masons are a member of a fraternity knows as Masonry, or Freemasonry. These men come together, normally at a Masonic Temple, for meetings and fellowship. There are always rumors that this is a “secret society” but members say that is far from the truth. The Catholic Church, however, continues to denounce the society.
The true origins of the Masons are unknown, but it is said that Masons were influenced by the Knights Templar who were a group of Christian warrior monks that was formed in 1118 with the job of protecting pilgrims to make trips to the Holy Land.
Today’s Masons teach that each person has a responsibility to make things better in the world. Though this is a morally appropriate goal, the Church feels this is not their actual purpose based on their varied history.
Masons are said to be men who have decided that they care about the future and the past and he does what he can to make the future good for everyone. However, the Masons continued religious undertones and negative comments and actions toward the Church make the group, as a whole, an enemy of the Catholic Church.
In addition to rumors of a “secret society”, there are also rumors that Masonry is an actual religion, though Masons state this is entirely untrue. The group believes strongly in the importance of religion and encourage every Mason to be active in the religion and church of their choice.
The only requirement is that they are not Atheists, as they put value into God being the center of one’s life. That being said, Catholics are free- from the Mason’s standpoint- to join this fraternity. However, the Catholic church has made it more than clear that their members are forbidden from entering the Masons. At one time, this would lead to excommunication for the individual.
When looking at the history of the Masons outside of the US, there are some accusations and instances which makes these individuals appear to be more than the civic-minded group that they claim to be. Though there have been none of these accusations within the United States- because of the secrecy of the organization- it can be difficult to gauge their actual impact on society.
What happened to cause a rift between Masons and Catholics?
The longstanding disagreements between the Catholic Church and the Freemasons have faded somewhat over the last few decades. However, this animosity has existed for over 300 years and continues to be emphasized by the Church as the years go on. Freemasonry has also lost some of its popularity and numbers in recent times, making it less prominent. However, the Church has not relaxed its stance on the group.
The church also continues to believe that though the public numbers and outward popularity have faded, that the group continues to move behind the scenes in the same manner that they have operated for many years.
Between Clement XII in 1738 and the Code of Canon Law written in 1917, eight Popes explicitly condemned the Masons. Each stated that the penalty for membership would be automatic excommunication from the church. So, what has caused this condemning of the Masons?
The reasoning behind the discord is a little hazy. Some will state that Masons were, at one time, political cells for republics and reformers. Though this argument does have some basis in history, the initial reasoning was something quite different.
Clement XII originally denounced the group because he felt that they were enforcing religious indifferentism, or basically a belief that all religions are of equal worth. He felt that they also believed that, in Masonry, all are united in service to a higher, unifying understanding of virtue.
While this description does not sound damning, it was felt that the Masons expected to place their membership to the lodge above the membership to the church. So, the prohibition was not political, but religious in nature.
The church really felt that the members would place the fraternity above their communion with the church. The church, therefore, saw Freemasonry as a form of heresy. There is also mention that the Masonic rites can, at times, be seen as heretical and explicitly anti-Catholic.
During his time as Pope, Leo condemned Freemasonry in many writings. He discussed what the Church considered to be the agenda behind the Masons, referring to the aim of secularizing society. Though the Masons touted themselves as moral, church going men- the Church disagreed.
When the Code of Canon Law was reformed, it specifically prohibited Catholics from joining “Masonic societies”. When rewritten in 1983, “Masonic” was taken out and the new Canon referred only to societies that “plot against the church”. This wording was misunderstood by a large group of individuals- thinking that Masonry was no longer prohibited. However, this ruling meant other groups in addition to Masons.
Masons Stand Against the Catholic Church
It is said that there is a strong Anti-Catholic attitude that resonates with Freemasonry. Masons believe that the death of Christ was the “greatest among the apostles of humanity, braving Roman despotism and the fanaticism and bigotry of the priesthood.” Reaching the higher masonic levels actually has an individual crush the papal tiara and royal crown and swear to free mankind from the, “bondage of despotism and the thralldom of spiritual tyranny.” This act seems to be a direct aggression towards the Catholic Church and papal members.
Another issue that comes with Freemasonry is that they require their members to take oaths. The church looks at an oath as a religious act, asking God to witness the truth of statements and fulfillment of promises. Freemasons make an oath to Freemasonry and the secrets under pain of death or self-mutilation. They must kneel blindfolded in front of the alter, placing both hands on sacred laws, such as a Bible, a square and a compass. They must then repeat their oath after the “master”.
Within the United States, General Albert Pike referred to the papacy as a, “deadly, treacherous enemy” and further statements against the Pope. In France in 1877 and again in Portugal in 1910, the Masons actually took over all government entities and instituted laws that restricted the activities of the Catholic church. It is said that modern day Masons continue to express anti-church and clerical statements.
There have also been continued rumors that Masons have led rebellions against the church and various governments through their secret society and behind the scenes to continue to chip away at the power of the papacy.
When asking if a Catholic can join the Masons, the Church states that these Masonic lodges may provide service to their communities, but when one understands that group’s overall history and anti-Catholic bias, as well as violence against the church at times during history- no practicing Catholic would be willing to join the Freemasons.
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