CATHOLIC OPPOSITION TO MASONRY THROUGHOUT THE CENTURIES
[from Catholic Encyclopedia, online]
The action of the Church is summed up in the papal pronouncements against Freemasonry since 1738, the most important of which are:
Clement XII, Constitution “In Eminenti”, 28 April, 1738;
Benedict XIV, “Providas”, 18 May, 1751;
Pius VII, “Ecclesiam”, 13 September, 1821;
Leo XII, “Quo graviora”, 13 March, 1825;
Pius VIII, Encyclical “Traditi”, 21 May, 1829;
Gregory XVI, “Mirari”, 15 August, 1832;
Pius IX, Encyclical “Qui pluribus”, 9 November, 1846;
Pius IX, Allocution “Quibus quantisque malis”, 20 April, 1849;
Pius IX, Encyclical “Quanta cura”, 8 December, 1864;
Pius IX, Allocution “Multiplices inter”, 25 September, 1865;
Pius IX, Encyclical “Etsi multa”, 21 November, 1873;
Leo XIII, Encyclical “Humanum genus”, 20 April, 1884;
Leo XIII, “Præclara”, 20 June, 1894;
Leo XIII, “Annum ingressi”, 18 March, 1902 (against Italian Freemasonry);
Leo XIII, Encyclical “Etsí nos”, 15 February, 1882;
Leo XIII, “Ab Apostolici”, 15 October, 1890.
These pontifical utterances from first to last are in complete accord, the latter reiterating the earlier with such developments as were called for by the growth of Freemasonry and other secret societies.
Clement XII accurately indicates the principal reasons why Masonic associations from the Catholic, Christian, moral, political, and social points of view, should be condemned. These reasons are:
The peculiar, “unsectarian” (in truth, anti-Catholic and anti-Christian) naturalistic character of Freemasonry, by which theoretically and practically it undermines theCatholic and Christian faith, first in its members and through them in the rest of society, creating religious indifferentism and contempt for orthodoxy and ecclesiastical authority.
The inscrutable secrecy and fallacious ever-changing disguise of the Masonic association and of its “work”, by which “men of this sort break as thieves into the house and like foxes endeavour to root up the vineyard”, “perverting the hearts of the simple”, ruining their spiritual and temporal welfare.
The oaths of secrecy and of fidelity to Masonry and Masonic work, which cannot be justified in their scope, their object, or their form, and cannot, therefore, induce anyobligation. The oaths are condemnable, because the scope and object of Masonry are “wicked” and condemnable, and the candidate in most cases is ignorant of the import or extent of the obligation which he takes upon himself. Moreover the ritualistic and doctrinal “secrets” which are the principal object of the obligation, according to the highest Masonic authorities, are either trifles or no longer exist. In either case the oath is a condemnable abuse. Even the Masonic modes of recognition, which are represented as the principal and only essential “secret” of Masonry, are published in many printed books. Hence the real “secrets” of Masonry, if such there be, could only be political or anti-religious conspiracies like the plots of the Grand Lodges in Latin countries. But such secrets, condemned, at least theoretically, by Anglo-American Masons themselves, would render the oath or obligation only the more immoral and therefore null and void. Thus in every respect the Masonic oaths are not only sacrilegious but also an abuse contrary to public order which requires that solemn oaths and obligations as the principal means to maintain veracity and faithfulness in the State and in human society, should not be vilified or caricatured. In Masonry the oath is further degraded by its form which includes the most atrocious penalties, for the “violation of obligations” which do not even exist; a “violation” which, in truth may be and in many cases is an imperative duty.
The danger which such societies involve for the security and “tranquility of the State” and for “the spiritual health of souls“, and consequently their incompatibility withcivil and canonical law. For even admitting that some Masonic associations pursued for themselves no purposes contrary to religion and to public order, they would be nevertheless contrary to public order, because by their very existence as secret societies based on the Masonic principles, they encourage and promote the foundation of other really dangerous secret societies and render difficult, if not impossible, efficacious action of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities against them.
Of the other papal edicts only some characteristic utterances need be mentioned:
Pius VII condemns the secret society of the Carbonari which, if not an offshoot, is “certainly an imitation of the Masonic society” and, as such, already comprised in the condemnation issued against it.
Leo XII deplores the fact, that the civil powers had not heeded the earlier papal decrees, and in consequence out of the old Masonic societies even more dangerous sectshad sprung. Among them the “Universitarian” is mentioned as most pernicious. “It is to be deemed certain“, says the pope, “that these secret societies are linked together by the bond of the same criminal purposes.”
Gregory XVI similarly declares that the calamities of the age were due principally to the conspiracy of secret societies and like Leo XII, deplores the religious indifferentism and the false ideas of tolerance propagated by secret societies.
Pius IX characterizes Freemasonry as an insidious, fraudulent and perverse organization injurious both to religion and to society; and condemns anew “this Masonic and other similar societies, which differing only in appearance coalesce constantly and openly or secretly plot against the Church or lawful authority”.
Leo XIII (1884) says: “There are various sects, which although differing in name, rite, form, and origin, are nevertheless so united by community of purposes and by similarity of their main principles as to be really one with the Masonic sect, which is a kind of centre, whence they all proceed and whither they all return.” The ultimate purpose of Freemasonry is “the overthrow of the whole religious, political, and social order based on Christian institutions and the establishment of a new state of things according to their own ideas and based in its principles and laws on pure Naturalism.”
In view of these several reasons Catholics since 1738 are, under penalty of excommunication, incurred ipso facto, and reserved to the pope, strictly forbidden to enter or promote in any way Masonic societies. The law now in force pronounces excommunication upon “those who enter Masonic or Carbonarian or other sects of the same kind, which, openly or secretly, plot against the Church or lawful authority and those who in any way favour these sects or do not denounce their leaders and principal members.” Under this head mention must also be made of the “Practical Instruction of the Congregation of the Inquisition, 7 May, 1884  and of the decrees of theProvincial Councils of Baltimore, 1840; New Orleans, 1856; Quebec, 1851, 1868; of the first Council of the English Colonies, 1854; and particularly of the Plenary Councils of Baltimore, 1866 and 1884.  These documents refer mainly to the application of the papal decrees according to the peculiar condition of the respectiveecclesiastical provinces. The Third Council of Baltimore, n. 254 sq., states the method of ascertaining whether or not a society is to be regarded as comprised in thepapal condemnation of Freemasonry. It reserves the final decision thereon to a commission consisting of all the archbishops of the ecclesiastical provinces represented in the council, and, if they cannot reach a unanimous conclusion, refers to the Holy See.
These papal edicts and censures against Freemasonry have often been the occasion of erroneous and unjust charges. The excommunication was interpreted as an “imprecation” that cursed all Freemasons and doomed them to perdition. In truth an excommunication is simply an ecclesiastical penalty, by which members of theChurch should be deterred from acts that are criminal according to ecclesiastical law. The pope and the bishops, therefore, as faithful pastors of Christ’s flock, cannot but condemn Freemasonry. They would betray, as Clement XII stated, their most sacred duties, if they did not oppose with all their power the insidious propagation and activity of such societies in Catholic countries or with respect to Catholics in mixed and Protestant countries. Freemasonry systematically promotes religious indifferentism and undermines true, i.e., orthodox Christian and Catholic Faith and life. Freemasonry is essentially Naturalism and hence opposed to all supernaturalism. As to some particular charges of Leo XIII (1884) challenged by Freemasons, e.g., the atheistical character of Freemasonry, it must be remarked, that the pope considers the activity of Masonic and similar societies as a whole, applying to it the term which designates the most of these societies and among the Masonic groups those, which push the so-called “anti-clerical”, in reality irreligious and revolutionary, principles of Freemasonry logically to their ultimate consequences and thus, in truth, are, as it were, the advanced outposts and standard-bearers of the whole immense anti-Catholic and anti-papal army in the world-wide spiritual warfare of our age. In this sense also the pope, in accordance with a fundamental biblical and evangelical view developed by St. Augustine in his “De civitate Dei”, like the Masonic poet Carducci in his “Hymn to Satan”, considers Satan as the supreme spiritual chief of this hostile army. Thus Leo XIII (1884) expressly states:
What we say, must be understood of the Masonic sect in the universal acceptation of the term, as it comprises all kindred and associated societies, but not of their single members. There may be persons amongst these, and not a few, who, although not free from the guilt of having entangled themselves in such associations, yet are neither themselves partners in their criminal acts nor aware of the ultimate object which these associations are endeavouring to attain. Similarly some of the several bodies of the association may perhaps by no means approve of certain extreme conclusions, which they would consistently accept as necessarily following from the general principles common to all, were they not deterred by the vicious character of the conclusions.
“The Masonic federation is to be judged not so much by the acts and things it has accomplished, as by the whole of its principles and purposes.”
POPE JOHN PAUL THE GREAT clarified that the Church position on Freemasonry remains unchanged. Freemasonry is incompatible with the Catholic Faith. Cardinal Ratzinger [later POPE BENEDICT XVI, inset] was the one in-charged of the re-examination of the issue being the head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Current position of the Catholic Church [from Wikipedia]
The Catholic Church’s most recent statement on Freemasonry was released in the 1983 document Quaesitum est, written by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope John Paul II. This document remains the most current standing reference on the Church’s policy on Freemasonry. Quaesitum est states:
Quaesitum est clarified the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which did not explicitly list Masonic orders among the secret societies it condemns. This contrasted with the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which explicitly declared that joining Freemasonry entailed automatic excommunication. The omission of Masonic orders from the 1983 Canon Law prompted Catholics and Masons to question whether the ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons was still active, especially after the perceived liberalization of the Church after Vatican II.
A number of Catholics became Freemasons assuming that the Church had softened its stance. Quaesitum est addressed this misinterpretation of the Code of Canon Law, clarifying that:
…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.”
These “irreconcilable principles” include a “deistic God“, naturalism and religious indifferentism.