The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has called for a national response to combat growing Masonic membership in the Philippines in a note published Wednesday.
The note, signed by the dicastery’s prefect Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández and Pope Francis, said it is “necessary to put in place a coordinated strategy among the individual bishops” of the Philippines to address “very significant” masonic membership and sympathy in the country.
The DDF note also identified “a large number of sympathizers and associates who are personally convinced that there is no opposition between membership in the Catholic Church and in Masonic Lodges.”
In response, the DDF said a two-pronged approach should be adopted by the country’s bishops.
First, the bishops should reiterate publicly the Church’s teaching that Freemasonry is fundamentally irreconcilable with the Catholic faith and that masonic membership is prohibited under canon law.
Second, the DDF proposed a nation-wide program of catechesis in all Philippine parishes in a way “accessible to the people” to explain the Church’s teaching against Freemasonry. The dicastery also invited the country’s bishops to make a joint public statement on the subject.
The Nov. 15 letter from the DDF follows a public statement on the same issue earlier this year from the Philippine bishops’ conference doctrinal commission which expressed “openness to the situation of individual Catholics (on a case-to-case basis)” who had joined Masonic lodges, while reiterating the Church’s canonical and theological opposition to Masonic association as a whole.
The DDF’s note was issued in response to further questions on the subject from Bishop Julito Cotres of the Diocese of Dumaguete, who asked for guidance on how to “respond to this reality suitably from a pastoral point of view, taking into account also the doctrinal implications related to this phenomenon.”
The Vatican response offered no accommodation or openness to Catholics who have joined Masonic lodges, even on a case-by-case basis, and instead reminded the bishop that “those [Catholics] who are formally and knowingly enrolled in Masonic Lodges and have embraced Masonic principles fall under the provisions in the [1983 CDF] Declaration.”
That declaration, signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was issued shortly before the 1983 Code of Canon Law came into force and stated that “the faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.”
The 1983 declaration was issued because, unlike the previous 1917 Code of Canon Law, Masonic Lodges were not specifically listed under societies Catholics are prohibited from joining under pain of canonical punishment.
The change gave rise to an erroneous impression in some territories and among some canonists that Catholic membership of the Freemasons was no longer always and everywhere impossible and prohibited.
In fact, the committee responsible for the revision of the Code of Canon Law proposed and decided to remove explicit reference to Freemasonry in the canon on prohibited societies because of concerns the canon would otherwise be too narrowly interpreted — that Catholics might think only Masonic societies were banned by the law.
“It is not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authorities to give a judgment on the nature of Masonic associations which would imply a derogation from what has been decided,” the 1983 declaration ruled.
Masonic lodges began as trade guilds of stoneworkers in Medieval England and Scotland.
Despite historical fictions pretending to links to ancient Egypt and the construction of Solomon’s Temple, the modern iteration of Freemasonry as a club for alchemists, pseudo-philosophers, political dissidents, religious non conformists, began in a London pub in 1717.
Shortly thereafter, Masonic lodges spread throughout Europe. In the beginning, Catholics could join as members, too — Francis I of Austria was even a patron — since the Church made no pronouncements about it, one way or another.
That changed in 1738, when Pope Clement XII banned Freemasonry as promoting religious indifferentism — the idea that it doesn’t matter what you believed about God, as long as you are a good Mason, because everyone in the lodge was serving a higher notion of natural virtue.
From Clement until the promulgation of the first universal Code of Canon Law in 1917, eight popes issued encyclicals or papal bulls denouncing Freemasonry and imposing a penalty of automatic excommunication reserved to the Holy See for any Catholic who joined.
The Church has continuously condemned the idea of Freemasonry because it removed Catholics from legitimate ecclesiastical oversight while they were being, effectively, catechised into a new philosophy — a different way of looking at the world.
When the Church’s leaders first spoke about Masonry as “plotting against the faith,” they meant that the Masonic worldview was subverting the teaching of the Church for Catholics who joined, and teaching them that it was equally valid to be a Catholic, a Protestant, some other religion entirely, or nothing at all — and that it was becoming a Mason, not being baptized, which would lead to a person’s spiritual and moral fulfillment.
In 1821, Pius VII’s apostolic constitution Ecclesiam a Iesu Christo repeated the papal ban on Masonic societies, including those attempting to violently overthrow the papal states. But, the pope taught that the true threat came from the Masonic philosophy of religious indifferentism, and promotion of what we’d today call “secularism.”
In one of several encyclicals condemning Freemasonry, Leo XIII explained masonic the secuarist agenda which, he said, included “the State, which [Masonry believes] ought to be absolutely atheistic, having the inalienable right and duty to form the heart and the spirit of its citizens,” as well as the treatment of marriage as a merely civil contract which could be dissolved at will.
Freemasonry often says of itself that it isn’t a religion, that it's just a society of men who value fellowship, cooperation, natural virtue, “that religion in which all men agree.” However, there are a lot of Masonic rituals which the Church considers to be religious in tone, even quasi-sacramental.
The first ritual of initiation in Freemasonry, to become an “entered apprentice,” involves the applicant stripping down and removing any articles he may be wearing, like a wedding ring or crucifix. Then he’s told to get half dressed, wearing a shirt on his right side, one trouser leg rolled up, one slipper and blindfold.
Then a noose is placed around his neck and he’s led into the lodge hall where he’s announced as “Mr. X, who has long been in darkness and now seeks to be brought to light.” The candidate is then told to embrace the “principle of Freemasonry that the natural eye cannot perceive of the mysteries of the Order until the heart has embraced the deep spiritual and mystic meanings of those sublime mysteries.”
For his part, the aspiring apprentice also affirms that he is in search of “the light” which only Masonry can give him. The rest of the ritual involves moments where the candidate is made to process through the hall blindfolded (sometimes at swordpoint), kneel, be prayed over, and eventually be admitted to the lodge.
Higher degrees of Masonic initiation involve explicitly anti-Catholic rituals.
In the thirtieth degree of the Scottish Rite (which is actually American), the Mason is presented with a skull wearing a papal tiara and told it “represents the tiara of the cruel and cowardly pontiff” and “is therefore the crown of an imposter.”
At one point in the ritual, a senior Mason stabs the skull with a dagger, while the candidate yells “Down with imposter, down with crime,” before stamping on it.