The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) has reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s teachings that laity or clerics participating in Freemasonry are in “a state of grave sin.”
The DDF released the Nov.13 document to the public with the signatures of Pope Francis and the DDF Prefect Cardinal Victor Fernández, urging the faithful not to participate in or affiliate with Freemasonry groups.
“On the doctrinal level, it should be remembered that active membership in Freemasonry by a member of the faithful is forbidden because of the irreconcilability between Catholic doctrine and Freemasonry,” the document reads, citing the 1983 “Declaration on Masonic Associations” by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would go on to become Pope Benedict XVI.
“Therefore, those who are formally and knowingly enrolled in Masonic Lodges and have embraced Masonic principles fall under the provisions in the above-mentioned Declaration. These measures also apply to any clerics enrolled in Freemasonry,” the document continues.
The clarification was requested by Bishop Julito Cortes of the Philippines, who raised concerns about growing interest in the secret society in his country.
Freemasonry, the world’s largest secret society with millions of members scattered across almost every country in the world, established its first Grand Lodge in England in 1717.
The society swears oaths of secrecy, fellowship and fraternity among members and has accumulated a vast catalog of rituals, ceremonial attire and secret signals between masons. These aesthetic affectations often use Christian imagery despite being used for non-Christian rituals.
Freemasons are usually expected to profess belief in a “supreme being” but are not obligated to believe in any specific deity.
Members of the Catholic Church are not allowed to join or affiliate with Freemasonry groups due to the organizations’ deistic, non-Christian teachings about divinity.
However, Freemason associations are far from uniform, and Masonic culture differs greatly between different rites, sects, lodges and national bodies Freemasonry. The Catholic Church has fought most aggressively with Masonic bodies in continental Europe, which boasts a more ideological tone.
Freemasonry in the United States and the United Kingdom, while still linked to overseas lodges, is reportedly more socially and professionally focused.
Freemasonry was rendered an excommunicable offense in 1738 by Pope Clement XII, who called the secret society “depraved and perverted.”
The 1983 document by then-Cardinal Ratzinger cited in the Vatican’s latest document states that the “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 1983 document adds, “The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.”
The Vatican recommended a pastoral approach to the issue of Freemasonry in the Philippines, suggesting national bishops push for greater catechesis on the subject among the laity.
“On the pastoral level, the Dicastery proposes that the Philippine Bishops conduct catechesis accessible to the people and in all parishes regarding the reasons for the irreconcilability between the Catholic Faith and Freemasonry.”
It is debated whether joining a Freemasonic lodge incurs an automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church under Canon Law.