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Our readers asked:

Can I Be a Catholic and a Freemason?

Thomas Ryan, CSP Answers:

Question: I’ve heard it said fairly often that if someone joins the Freemasons, they can be excommunicated from the Church. Is that true? Why is Freemasonry such a bad thing in the Church’s eyes? I am a Catholic, and I love the Church, but I’ve also thought about joining the Freemasons, until I heard this.

Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that traces its origins to the loose organization of medieval stonemasonry. Today, in the United States, the Fraternity is divided between fifty-one Grand Lodges (one for each State, plus Washington DC), which taken together have a total membership of just under two million.

Freemasonry explicitly and openly states that it is neither a religion nor a substitute for one. “There is no separate Masonic God”, nor a separate proper name for a deity in any branch of Freemasonry.

Regular Freemasonry requires that its candidates believe in a Supreme Being, but the interpretation of this term is subject to the conscience of the candidate. Consequently, Freemasonry accepts men from across the range of world religions.

Although members of various faiths cite objections, certain Christian denominations have had high profile negative attitudes to Masonry, banning or discouraging their members from being Freemasons.

The Roman Catholic Church has the longest history of objection to Freemasonry. The objections raised are based on the allegation that Masonry teaches a naturalistic deistic religion which is in conflict with Church doctrine.

What is Deism? Deism is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God, accompanied with the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge. Deism gained prominence in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Age of the Enlightenment—especially in Britain, France, Germany and America—among intellectuals raised as Christians who believed in one god, but found fault with organized religion and could not believe in supernatural events such as miracles, the inerrancy of Scriptures, or the Trinity.

A number of Papal pronouncements have been issued against Freemasonry. The first was Pope Clement XII’s in 1738; the most recent was by Pope Leo in 1890. The 1917 Cole of Canon Law explicitly declared that joining Freemasonry entailed automatic excommunication and also forbade books friendly to Freemasonry.

In 1983, the Church issued a new Code of Canon Law. Unlike its predecessor, it did not explicitly name Masonic orders among the secret societies. This omission of Masonic orders caused both Catholics and Freemasons to believe that the ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons may have been lifted. However, the matter was clarified in November 1983 when the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a Declaration on Masonic Associations, which states:

“… 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 Communion.”

In 1996 the Bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, published a list of organizations in which membership by Catholics was forbidden. The Freemasons were on that list, and the Vatican backed the issuance of the list.

There was also a six-year study of Masonry by the German bishops and a study of American Masonry by Professor William Whalen, who was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Pastoral Research and Practices Committee. Both studies arrived at a similar conclusion: That the principles and basic rituals of Masonry embody a naturalistic religion in which active participation was judged to be incompatible with Christian faith and practice.
Thus, from a Catholic perspective, there is still a ban on Catholics joining Masonic Lodges. Are Catholics alone in this among Christians? No, but in contrast to Catholic allegations of rationalism and naturalism, Protestant objections are more likely to be based on allegations of mysticism and occultism.

In 1933, the Orthodox Church of Greece officially declared that being a Freemason constitutes an act of apostasy and thus, until he repents, the person involved with Freemasonry cannot partake of the Eucharist. This has been generally affirmed throughout the whole Orthodox Church. The Orthodox critique of Freemasonry agrees with both the Roman Catholic and Protestant versions: “Freemasonry cannot be at all compatible with Christianity as far as it is a secret organization, acting and teaching in mystery and secret and deifying rationalism.”
Regular Freemasonry has traditionally not responded to these claims. In recent years, however, this has begun to change, with some Masonic websites and publications addressing these criticisms. In this era of dialogue, perhaps it’s time for a new one between Freemasonry and the Christian churches.

The Author : Thomas Ryan, CSP
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, D.C.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Peter C.

    Wow. And I thought politics stirred up passion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jdailey1981 Jason

    I am a mason, and I am not a Catholic, but I have friends and family members who are. I have asked many of my brothers, and they all say the same thing. It is not the masonic lodge that does not accept catholics, it is the Catholic Church that does not accept masonry. Many men have been kicked out of the Catholic Church for simply being a mason. Main reason being, the Catholic Church sees freemasonry as a former of religion, in which it is not.

  • Turner Armstrong

    It is important that the church does stay open to dialogue. If you believe, as I do, that the church teachings are truth, then a genuine dialogue will prove this. Any honest and open debate, undertaken in good faith and followed to its logical conclusion, will reveal the truth, if the truth is known by any of the participants. The only reason to be closed off to dialogue is if you fear that you are wrong, and are unwilling to listen to what is right.
    That said, those people who accuse the church of blind hate are not exactly open to dialogue in good faith. The question in this article is whether one can be catholic and a mason. The answer is that, after over a century of study, discussion, and prayer, the church has found that being a practicing, active mason is incompatible with being a faithful catholic in full communion with the church. The teachings of the two groups are not compatible. A circle cannot be a square, but that does not mean that circles hate squares.
    The masons are willing to accept Catholics as members, and to be clear, the Catholic Church is willing to accept anyone who is a mason, but because the teachings are not compatible, if you would choose to be faithful and devoted to either group, you must choose one or the other.

  • Scuttlebug

    What is this “era of dialogue” you speak of? What dialogue is necessary between the One True Faith and falsehoods? No, please, enlighten me — I’m struggling to grasp the concept.

    If this dialogue is not actively working to bring people to the Catholic faith (something hard to believe, considering the mass apostasy currently taking place), then it is not only NOT helpful to the Catholic Church, but is, in fact, harmful.

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  • Meagan Rogers

    For those who say I am wrong, prove it. Hers is mine:
    You have cursades, and the murders of the knights Templar at the hands of the Catholic church against you.
    The Cahloic church itself said the Masonic Order is not allowed, don’t believe me ask your priest. The Masonic order will even accept you, however you are left to deal with the repercussions from the church on your own.
    I was unknowingly baptized Catholic because the church refused to allow my mom and her second husband to get married until her and I converted. I had to take those stupid classes which I am sure most “Catholics” didn’t even take. I never forgave that man for stripping away my chance to join the Jobes Daughters like the rest of my family. I had to wait til I was 18 and convert to something else.
    Finally, when I challenge my nun instructor at 14, on why I could not join she referred me to Matthew 10: 1-39 in that story the men were told that if a town or home refused to hear gods word they were to not rest there for the night and leave. The then compared the Jobes Daughters, to sleeping in the Gentiles homes.
    Sure the Catholic church has an amazing Pope now, and I really hope he continues to make great changes, but centuries of intolerance can not be undone over night. You say intolerance is not the case but it was and for many people still is.

  • Mike


    You must decide for yourself whether you want to be a Mason. As a Mason I cannot give you direction because we are not allowed to influence others. We are taught to love all mankind regardless of race, religion, sex, or political affiliation.

    Our rituals are fraternity rituals much like you will see in colleges and even in the military. Having been apart of a college fraternity I can say that what happend there is way worse then anything you will find in Masonry. The rituals contrary to popular belief come largely from the King James Version of the bible. Each ritual teaches a life lesson and can seem silly and stupid to those who do not understand the meaning.

    I am in the blue lodge as well as the Scottish Rite I am an officer in both and can tell you that what you take from Masonry is what you believe the teachings to be. If you see them as bad then thats your choice, if you see them as good then thats your right as well. We do not force anyone to believe anything thats the point.

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