This year sees the tercentenary of the establishment of the United Grand Lodge of England, the body which oversees Freemasonry in England and Wales. Freemasons all over the country have had special celebrations this year to mark this, such as a special service in Canterbury Cathedral in February. There has also been a series of promotional programmes on Sky TV.
Catholics may not want to ‘rain on their parade’, but this year we should remind ourselves of the differences between Catholicism and Freemasonry and the reasons why Catholics are not allowed to be Freemasons.
Ed Condon has recently done this in an article in the Catholic Herald (‘Why the Church fights the Masons’, 11 August 2017) and the Catholic Truth Society is publishing this September a revised and updated edition of the booklet I wrote twelve years ago, Freemasonry and the Christian Faith.
One reason I was asked to write it back then was that CTS had not had a booklet in print about the subject for about thirty years, partly because in the 1970s for a brief period there was confusion in the England and the United States when sometimes Catholics were told that they could be Freemasons if their local Masonic lodge was not anti-Catholic.
This confusion came to an end in 1983 when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with the approval of St John Paul II, issued a document which reiterated the traditional position:
Catholics are not permitted to be Freemasons and if they join Freemasonry they are not permitted to receive Holy Communion.
This prohibition is universal and local bishops do not have the power to get round it. Many people at the time were not told about this, so my booklet was designed to dispel ignorance. Both at the time when I wrote it and when I wrote an article about it for the Catholic Herald some years later (‘Good Catholics should not wear aprons’, 30 October 2009) it became clear that some Catholics (particularly in the United States and the Channel Islands) thought that they could be Freemasons in good faith and had sometimes been told by priests and bishops that they could.
Freemasons here claim that the conflict between their organization and the Catholic Church is really to do with continental Freemasonry (in France, Italy and Latin America) which is avowedly atheistic and at odds politically with the Church over the last three hundred years. However, this is a ‘red herring’ – the reasons why Freemasonry is incompatible with Christianity are its exclusion of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the prayers used in its rituals, the emphasis in these rituals on the Freemason’s individual effort to win his own salvation and the character of Freemasonry’s oaths which require a candidate for admission to swear to keep secrets before he knows what they are.
In my booklet I also point to Freemasonry’s superficial approach to morality, its attitude towards women and its secretive and unhealthy role within British society – for example, in the police and in local government -exposed by writers as Stephen Knight and Martin Short. In the revised version of my booklet I also draw attention to its continuing strength in the Church of England, particularly in cathedrals, to which Freemasons make very generous financial donations.
The revised version of my booklet is available on the ctsbooks website: Freemasonry and the Christian Faith. If you have any queries or if you would like advice, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Ashley Beck is Assistant Priest of Beckenham in the Southwark archdiocese and Senior Lecturer in Pastoral Ministry at St Mary’s University, Twickenham