Ms. Dowd’s review contains much inaccurate or misleading information about Freemasonry. This blog post is one of a series in which I address the inaccuracies about Freemasonry that occur in Ms. Dowd’s review. Links to the rest of the posts in this series may be found here.
What Ms. Dowd Had to Say
In my immediately preceding post on this blog, I considered a statement that Ms. Dowd made regarding Freemasonry and the Roman Catholic Church:
My dad always said in his day that the Masons were not welcoming to Catholics. The Catholic Church once considered the Masons so anti-Catholic, Catholics who joined were threatened with excommunication.
In that earlier post, I addressed the matter of Freemasonry’s attitude towards Catholics. (As I explained there, Freemasonry is entirely welcoming to Catholics, and is not anti-Catholic at all.) In this post, I put the shoe on the other foot, and take up the matter of Catholicism’s attitude towards Freemasonry.
The Official Catholic Attitude Towards Freemasonry
The official attitude of the Roman Catholic Church has changed over time. Freemasonry has been addressed by the Vatican in a number of papal pronouncements over the last three centuries. The current official Catholic attitude towards Freemasonry is quite negative (as explained recently in a presentation made at a Masonic lodge by the Rev. Mr. John J. McManus, JD, JCL. There are two aspects of this attitude that are especially noteworthy for my purposes here today:
- The current official Catholic attitude towards Freemasonry is based on a wildly inaccurate image of Freemasonry.
- The classic papal statement on Freemasonry, Humanum Genus (1884), is based on a highly negative attitude towards values that are now commonly accepted, such as democracy and freedom of religion.
The Inaccurate Contemporary View of Freemasonry Within Catholicism
Several Catholic writers who have addressed the Catholic position on Freemasonry make reference to an official statement made in about 1980 by the German [Roman Catholic] Bishops’ Conference. In turn, this statement is summarized in an article by Monsignor Ronny E. Jenkins, “The Evolution of the Church’s Prohibition Against Catholic Membership in Freemasonry” (The Jurist, vol. 56, pp. 735-755), which itself is summarized in the McManus presentation which I have mentioned above.
I was stunned by the degree to which the image of Freemasonry portrayed by the German Bishops varied from Freemasonry as I had studied for many years, and as I have known it from the inside for some time. Consequently, I began a series regarding the Roman Catholic Church and Freemasonry on another blog that I author, “Freemasonry: Reality, Myth, and Legend”; the first part of that series is here. Although incomplete, the seven parts of the series currently on the blog are very revealing concerning the inaccuracy of the German Bishops’ (and many other Catholic leaders’) perceptions of Freemasonry. To be specific:
- The German Bishops stated that Masonry promotes a relativistic approach to reality where one should avoid commitment “to any one set of revealed truths.” As I explain in Part 2 of my series, this is a serious distortion of Freemasonry. The Masonic practice is to give respect to a variety of religious positions, but Freemasonry does not teach that one should avoid committment to one!
- The German Bishops stated that “the Masons deny the possibility of an objective truth, placing every truth instead in a relative context.” As I explain in Part 3 of my series, this is simply false from beginning to end. In fact, the Masons teach a number of objective truths, although part of the genius of Freemasonry is that it does this while still maintaining respect for different religious positions. Somehow, it seems, the German Bishops made such respect into something bad.
- The German Bishops stated that “the Masonic teaching holds a relative notion of religion as all concurrently seeking the truth of the absolute”; they seem to imply that Masons teach that all religions hold equal value. As I explain in Part 4 of my series, no branch of Freemasonry of which I have any knowledge teaches anything like this.
- The German Bishops stated that “the Masons hold a deistic notion of God”—which includes the notion that God does not intervene in the human world—a notion which “precludes the possibility of God’s self-revelation to humankind,” thus undercutting any idea of biblically based religion. As I explain in Part 5 of my series, Freemasonry does not teach Deism. If anything, Freemasonry seems to have a prominent Theistic slant (tending towards the notion of the Divine Being as revealing important things to humankind). Although there were Deists (such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin) who were prominent Freemasons in the days of the American War of Independence, that has no relevance: Freemasonry welcomes Deists and Theists alike.
- The German Bishops stated that “the Masons promote a principle of toleration regarding ideas,” and that “such a principle … threatens the Catholic position of objective truth … [and] also threatens the respect due the Church’s teaching office.” As I explain in Part 6 of my series, yes, Masons actually do teach toleration of different ideas—but, for that matter, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does the same. (In essence, the Bishops exhibited an attitude that is outmoded even within their own church.)
- The German Bishops stated that “the rituals of [Freemasonry] have a clear sacramental character about them,” which of course would intrude on the mission of the Catholic Church as having, in the Catholic view, exclusive authority over the sacraments of grace. As I explain in Part 7 of my series, this is completely untrue, based on what the Catholic Church teaches about the sacraments, and what Freemasonry teaches about its own rituals.
- The German Bishops stated that Freemasonry claims to lead to the perfection of humankind, a position that would thus usurp the role of Christ in human life. However, the truth of the matter is that Freemasonry makes no such claim, and offers no program for the salvation of humankind.
- The German Bishops stated that “the Masonic Order makes a total claim on the life of the members.” This is nonsense; the existence of many clergy of Christian and other faiths who are Freemasons shows that the German Bishops are inaccurate.
- The German Bishops state that Masonic lodges “seek merely to adapt Christianity to the overall Masonic world-view.” This is simply inaccurate; Freemasonry teaches men to follow the precepts of their own religions, rather than adapting those religions to Freemasonry.
- The German Bishops state that Masonic lodges “are not compatible with Catholic teaching.” However, the Bishops demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of Masonic teaching and practice, and so entirely fail to make their case.
I have not yet completed the series on the Roman Catholic Church and Freemasonry. (After I posted Part #7 in the series, on June 6, 2009, I had to focus on moving my household to a different residence, after which I became caught up in the matter of interpreting Doubleday’s Dan Brown clues.) However, you can see where I am going with this. The current Catholic position on Freemasonry is based on an utterly inaccurate image of Freemasonry.
However, that is not the entire story.
There is, in addition to the contemporary Catholic position articulated by the German Bishops, a more classic Catholic position on Freemasonry, articulated in the papal pronouncement known as Humanum Genus (1884). That pronouncement criticizes Freemasonry on entirely different grounds from those used by the German Bishops, and it is to that pronouncement that I shall turn in my next post.
At least over the last 30 years or so, the Catholic position on Freemasonry has not been so much about a supposed anti-Catholic bias on the part of Masonry (as Ms. Dowd states), but has rather been about Freemasonry as a supposedly relativistic, deistic, alternative religion—none of which is true about Freemasonry at all. With all due respect to Catholicism and Catholics, the facts as I have described them above demonstrate that the contemporary Catholic position on Freemasonry is based on a perception of Masonry that is fundamentally and deeply flawed and inaccurate.
Basic questions about Freemasonry can be addressed to the author either as a comment on a post here, or through the "Freemasonry 101" blog.
I discuss the basics of Freemasonry in my book, Freemasonry: An Introduction, which will shortly be available again through Amazon; interested readers may ask to be notified of this availability through sending me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
I shall have a great deal to say about Freemasonry as it is depicted by The Lost Symbol in two places:
- one of my two chapters in the forthcoming book edited by Dan Burstein and Arne de Keijzer, Secrets of The Lost Symbol, which you can read about here;
- my own forthcoming book, Discovering The Lost Symbol: Magic, Masonry, Noetic Science, and the Idea that We Can Become Gods. (Publishers’ and agents’ inquiries are welcome!)
[The photo of St. Peter’s Basilica in the early morning was taken on May 21, 2004 by Andreas Tille. It was obtained from Wikimedia Commons and is used here under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.]
(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)