Monday, June 1, 2009

Part 1: The Context. (Series: The Roman Catholic Church and Freemasonry)

From time to time, I come upon material published about Freemasonry that is not just inaccurate, but spectacularly wrong--material that apprehends Masons and Masonry so very deeply wrongly that it cries out for a response. I have come upon such material this day, consisting of a number of persistent falsehoods that have caused a great deal of trouble and pain for many people. I am speaking of the image of Freemasonry that, it seems, is held by many members of the Roman Catholic Church.

Greg Stewart, in his valuable on-line magazine Freemason Information, published on May 30 the remarks of the Reverend Mr. John J. McManus, JD, JCL, titled "The Catholic Church and Freemasonry." This talk was delivered in May at the fifth installment of the 'Religion and Culture' lecture series held by Gate City Lodge No. 2, a regular Masonic lodge in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Rev. Mr. McManus is a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and he is an ordained Deacon in that church. He is an attorney, which allows him to practice in the secular courts of the land, and he also holds a pontifical licentiate that allows him to practice Canon Law in the courts of the Roman Catholic Church. In his presentation, his aim was to explain, from the perspective of Roman Catholic teaching and canon law, why it is that Freemasonry and Roman Catholicism are incompatible, to the point where canon law provides for excommunication for Catholic Masons.

In the course of his presentation, the Rev. Mr. McManus cites a number of sources regarding Catholic canon law. He notes that he relies heavily on an article by Monsignor Ronny E. Jenkins, one of the Rev. Mr. McManus' former instructors at The Catholic University of America, regarding the evolution of the Catholic Church's position on Freemasonry. In this article, Msgr. Jenkins in turn quotes from a document generated in about 1980 by the German [Roman Catholic] Bishops' Conference, a document in which the bishops state that membership in the Catholic Church is incompatible with membership in Freemasonry. The German Bishops' Conference apparently reached this conclusion on the basis of twelve areas of Masonic teaching that, they said, conflicted with Catholic teaching.

I was stunned, reading the supposed twelve areas of Masonic teaching that are at issue here, stunned for two reasons. First, the Freemasonry described by the German Bishops' Conference is not remotely like the Freemasonry that I know and have studied for many years. Second, many of the historical reasons for the Catholic Church's long-standing antipathy towards Freemasonry--reasons that are plain to read in the papal encyclical Humanum Genus (1884)--were not mentioned at all.

So it is that I have determined to respond to this material in some detail. In this series, I shall respond to each of the 12 points about Freemasonry mentioned by the German Bishops' Conference. Following that, I shall describe the real historical reasons for the antipathy towards Freemasonry, as described in Humanum Genus.

My basic points here are twofold: (1) The Roman Catholic hierarchy's attitude towards Freemasonry is based on a thoroughly inaccurate understanding of the fraternity. (2) The real historical reasons for the Catholic Church's antipathy towards Freemasonry are a set of attitudes that the world--including the Catholic world--have left behind.

In turn, the reasons why I am going to the trouble of generating this series is also twofold: (a) Many Catholic Masons suffer unnecessarily because of the misunderstandings that their ecclesiastical leaders hold concerning Masonry. (b) The same misunderstandings held by the German Bishops' Conference are often held by the leadership of other churches and other religions. I hope that articles like mine will contribute to more accurate understanding, and perhaps even further evolution in the stance of the Catholic Church and other religious bodies regarding Freemasonry.

I certainly recognize the right of any religious body to determine its own stance regarding Freemasonry; however, I think we all can agree that it is important to base any such stance on an accurate understanding of Masonry, its teachings, values, history, and practices. Of course, it should be obvious to all that Freemasons have the right to correct misunderstandings and falsehoods held by anyone, regarding their fraternity.

And so to begin.

An index to each post of this series follows. Of course, the title of each post corresponds to the title of one or two paragraphs of the German Bishops' statement.

  • Part 2: The Masonic Worldview (June 1, 2009). Do Masons really teach that one should abstain from believing any one set of revealed truths?

  • Part 3: The Masonic Notion of Truth (June 2, 2009). Do Masons really "deny the possibility of an objective truth," as the German Bishops claimed?

  • Part 4: The Masonic Notion of Religion (June 3, 2009). Do Masons really teach a relativistic approach to religion?

  • Part 5: The Masonic Notions of God and Divine Revelation (June 4, 2009). Do Masons really teach a Deist view of the Divine?

  • Part 6: Masonic Toleration (June 6, 2009). Is what the Masons teach about toleration for different ideas actually a threat to Catholic notions of truth and authority?

  • Part 7: Masonic Rituals (June 6, 2009). Is Masonic ritual actually "sacramental" in character--in the Catholic sense of "sacramental"?

- - - - -

I now turn from the German Bishops' statement to Humanum Genus, the 1884 encyclical by Pope Leo XIII that constitutes the "classical" statement of the Roman Catholic objections to Freemasonry.
  • Part 8: Humanum Genus: Introduction and Overview (October 16, 2009). An orientation to the document, with a summary of its objections to Freemasonry.
  • Part 9: Humanum Genus: Are Masons "Naturalists"? (October 17, 2009). Considers the claim that Masons are philosophical Naturalists who deny Divine revelation and the very existence of God. Explains the basis of this misconception in the conflating of Freemasonry with the historical Illuminati and, perhaps, the revolutionary Marxists.
(The image above, depicting the emblem of the Roman Catholic papacy, was obtained from Wikipedia. The image itself has been released into the public domain for copyright purposes; anyone may legally use it for any legal purpose.)


  1. Great reading Bro Mark... One of the best treatise on Catholic faith vis-a-vis Freemasonry.

  2. FilMasons NSW: Thank you for your kind words. As you can see, I have resumed the series, with Part 8.

  3. Mark...this is great. you are so passionate i just loved every minute reading the blog. One question: who the heck were the German freemasons the Bishops Council "consulted" with and why didn't they do such a great job defending the Order?!?

  4. Anonymous: You've got me. It would not surprise me if, in fact, the Masonic brethren interviewed by the Bishops did, in fact, make a creditable defense of the Fraternity. However, as they say, people hear what they want to hear, regardless of what is spoken. In my estimate, the Bishops came to the table with a set of preconceptions that allowed them to twist whatever they would have heard into the direction they wished it to go.


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