May Catholics Become Freemasons

From the Mar, 2001 issue (Vol. 8, Issue 1) of the Masonic Information
Center FOCUS Newsletter, which is a communication of the Masonic
Service Association of N.A.


     David Patterson, Executive Secretary of the Masonic Service
Bureau of Los Angeles, wrote a letter to Cardinal Mahoney of the
Archdiocese of Los Angeles inquiring as to the current position of
the church concerning Masonic Membership. The reply on behalf of the
Cardinal is reprinted (with permission) on page 2 of this issue of

Thank you for your inquiry of September 11, 2000 directed to Cardinal
Mahoney,  on whose behalf I am replying. The question is  "whether  a
practicing Catholic may join a Masonic Lodge."

Unfortunately, the matter is too complex for a straightforward  "yes"
or  "no"  answer. But at least for Catholics in the United States,  I
believe  the  answer  is  probably yes. Permit  me  to  explain  this
qualified response.

Your  letter states that a member's "allegiance to one God is all  we
require".  To  the extent that this is an accurate statement  of  the
organization's  beliefs and teachings, and that  its  activities  are
humanitarian and charitable in nature, there is no reason to  prevent
a practicing Catholic from joining.

Past  history,  of  course, has muddied the  waters  because  earlier
church  law  (prior to November 27, 1983) specifically named  Masonic
groups  as a forbidden society (canon 2335, 1917 Code). The dialogues
between  Catholic and Masonic representatives in the years since  the
Second  Vatican Council were generally very positive and yet did  not
resolve  questions or concerns raised in certain parts of the  world.
As  a  result, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome
issued  a  statement one day before the new Code of  Canon  Law  took
effect  (November  26,  1983), in which it held  that  since  Masonic
principles  were  still  contrary to the  teachings  of  the  Church,
Catholics   would  commit  a  grave  sin  in  belonging  to   Masonic
associations and so could not receive Holy Communion.

Because  this  declaration  has not been superseded  by  any  further
official   statements,  the  question  keeps  recurring   about   its
interpretation  and  application. There is  no  agreement  among  the
experts  in  church law who have considered the matter.  Consequently
one  can  only  judge the individual circumstances in  light  of  the
principles that clearly do apply. These principles are set  forth  in
canons  1374 and 1364 of the 1983 Code, which forbid a Catholic  from
joining  "an association which plots against the Church"  and  impose
penalties  for  heresy  under certain conditions.  If  "a  particular
Masonic  lodge truly promoted heretical teaching or conspired against
the interests of the Church" (Ronny E. Jenkins, "The Evolution of the
Church's Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry," The
Jurist,  56 (1996), pg 735,) then a Catholic would be bound to  avoid

The reason, then, I answer 'probably yes' is because I am unaware  of
any  ideology  or  practice by the local lodges  that  challenges  or
subverts  the doctrine and interests of the Catholic Church.  In  the
previous paragraph, I have cited the article which best presents  the
current  state of the question. The 1974 newspaper clipping that  you
enclosed  with  your letter probably refers to a  letter  written  by
Cardinal  Seper,  then  in charge of the same doctrinal  congregation
mentioned  above,  which was addressed to certain  bishops.  In  this
letter  one  can  see  the  movement at  that  time  from  a  blanket
prohibition to the application of a case-by-case judgment  whether  a
group  did  in fact conspire against the Church. The history  of  the
development  of the Church's current law suggests that this  case-by-
case approach is what canon 1374 on forbidden associations intends.

Please  forgive this lengthy reply, but a shorter one  would  not  do
justice  to  those inquirers who are aware that the matter  is  still
controversial.  I  thank you for giving me the opportunity  to  learn
more  about it myself, and I close by asking God's blessing  on  your
well-known endeavors to relieve human suffering and assist the needy.

                 Rev. Thomas C. Anslow, C.M., J.C.L.
                           Judicial Vicar