ROME, 6 FEB. 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: A member of the RCIA program was told by another member of the parish
that if they were going to become Catholic they needed to terminate
their involvement with the Masonic lodge before they could join. Is this
still the case in the United States?
T.N., Howard City, Michigan
A: This question is more canonical than liturgical. The Church's
position with respect to membership of Masonic lodges, even though canon
law no longer explicitly mentions the Masons, has not substantially
The new code states in 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." An interdict is an ecclesiastical
penalty that deprives the person of the right to celebrate or receive
the sacraments but is less harsh than excommunication.
This text greatly simplified the former code which had specifically
mentioned the Masons. This change led some Masons to think that the
Church no longer banned Catholics from being Masons, since, among other
things, in many countries membership at a lodge was merely social and
had nothing to do with plotting against the Church.
In order to clarify the issue the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith published a declaration on Nov. 26, 1983, shortly before the
present Code of Canon Law came into effect. This declaration, signed by
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, states:
"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 in 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.
"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
"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 (cf.
AAS 73 1981 pp. 240-241; English language edition of L'Osservatore
Romano, 9 March 1981).
"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
The congregation's judgment, therefore, was not so much based on whether
the Masons as such or any specific group of Masons effectively plot
against the Church today. This does not deny that some Masonic groups
have historically combated the Church nor that even today, in some
countries or at certain levels, the lodge remains at the forefront of
those who oppose the Church's freedom of action.
Rather, the Vatican congregation above all stressed the incompatibility
of some Masonic principles with those of the Catholic Church.
This incompatibility resides in some aspects of Masonic ritual, but more
importantly in elements regarding the question of truth.
In its effort to bring together people of different provenances, Masonry
requires that its members adhere to a minimal belief in a supreme
architect of the universe and leave aside all other pretensions of
truth, even revealed truth.
It is thus basically a relativistic doctrine, and no Catholic, nor
indeed any convinced Christian, may ever adhere to a group that would
require him, even as a mere intellectual exercise, to renounce the
affirmation of such truths as Christ's divinity and the Trinitarian
nature of God.
Of course, for many people active in Masonic lodges, the conversations
and activities are more social in nature and rarely veer toward the
realm of philosophical speculation. A Catholic, however, cannot ignore
the fundamental principles behind an organization, no matter how
innocuous its activities appear to be.