Forbidden Fraternities: The Vatican’s Stance on Masonry for Catholics

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The Vatican has reaffirmed its stance on the prohibition of Catholics joining the Masons, stating that membership in the fraternity is considered a “grave sin.” This clarification came in response to a request from a Filipino bishop, Dom Julito Cortes of Dumanguete, who expressed concern over the increasing number of faithful in his diocese affiliated with the Masons. In a response dated November 13, 2023, the Dicastério for the Doctrine of Faith, led by Mayor Victor Fernandéz and blessed by Pope Francis, confirmed that Catholics are still forbidden from joining the Masons.

The decision by the Vatican to address this issue demonstrates its commitment to upholding the teachings of the Catholic Church and ensuring that its faithful understand the theological implications of their actions. Dom Julito Cortes, concerned about the situation in his diocese, reached out to the Vatican for guidance, seeking a pastoral approach to handling this issue.

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith has recommended a coordinated strategy, involving the Episcopal Conference of the Philippines, to address the growing number of faithful affiliated with the Masons. The first approach is theological, emphasizing that a faithful person cannot actively join the Masonic Lodge. This directive is in line with the 1983 Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Directives published by the Conference of Bishops in 2003. The note further clarifies that those who are formally and consciously registered in Masonic societies and have embraced Masonic principles are subject to the provisions of the Declaration. These rules also apply to clergy members who join the Masons.

The second approach is pastoral in nature, focusing on catechesis. The dicastery recommends that Filipino parish priests conduct popular catechesis explaining the reasons for the incompatibility of Catholic faith and Masonic rituals. This aims to educate the faithful and help them understand the theological basis for the Church’s position on Masonry. The Vatican suggests that the bishops in the Philippines prayerfully consider issuing a public statement on this matter to guide and inform the faithful of their dioceses.

The 1983 Declaration, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) and Jérôme Hamer, the secretary of the Congregation, was published on the eve of the new Code of Canon Law coming into effect. The new Code replaced the 1917 Code and, notably, did not explicitly condemn Freemasonry or impose excommunication for its members, as the old text did. The Declaration reaffirmed that Catholics affiliated with Masonic lodges are in a state of grave sin, emphasizing the severity of this offense.

By addressing the issue raised by Bishop Dom Julito Cortes, the Vatican has once again underscored the prohibition of Catholics joining the Masons. This reaffirmation is aimed at guiding the faithful and helping them understand the theological implications of their choices. The Vatican’s approach involves both theological clarification and pastoral guidance, illustrating its commitment to the spiritual well-being of Catholics and the integrity of their faith.