By Fr. Alex Zenthoefer
Special to The Message
Editor's note: This is an updated version of this story, which Father Alex provided The Message on June 29, 2023.
Many active, faithful Catholics are not aware of the history of the conflict between masons and the Catholic Church or the current stance we hold as Catholics. Many have been unknowingly participating in masonic rites, unaware of the context of those rituals. It is important for us to understand what is at the heart of this division and why the Catholic Church has reaffirmed that “Catholics enrolled in Masonic associations are involved in serious sin and may not approach Holy Communion” (Declaration on Masonic Associations, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, November 1983). This is a very serious claim and one that demands our attention.
The first thing we should note is that the mentality behind masonry is secular, that is, it diminishes the role of faith and proposes an alternative foundation for living one’s life: in this case, to be a good mason and serve a higher notion of natural virtue. This is precisely why, in 1738, Pope Clement XII banned freemasonry. During the initiation rite, the candidate expresses a desire to seek "light," and he is assured he will receive the light of spiritual instruction that he could not receive in another Church, and that he will gain eternal rest in the "celestial lodge" if he lives and dies according to masonic principles. Such secularism puts the members at risk of losing sight of Jesus Christ as the Lord of life and salvation.
The second thing to be attentive to is that the rituals are hostile to Catholicism. Since masonry involves non-Christians, the use of the name of Jesus is forbidden within the lodge. In some lodges the practice remains that when one reaches the 30th degree in the masonic hierarchy, called the Kadosh, the person crushes with his foot the papal tiara and the royal crown, and swears to free mankind "from the bondage of despotism and the thraldom of spiritual tyranny."
Finally, there is an explicit hostility in the masonic tradition towards the Catholic Church. In the United States, one of the leaders of freemasonry, General Albert Pike (d. 1891) referred to the papacy as "a deadly, treacherous enemy," and wrote, “The papacy has been for a thousand years the torturer and curse of humanity, the most shameless imposture, in its pretense to spiritual power of all ages.” Such words, along with masonic rituals, illustrate a real and irreconcilable division between Catholicism and masonry.
The Church has stated clearly: "Therefore 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. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion” (Declaration on Masonic Associations, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, November 1983).
It is critical for us to understand the promises we make and what the organizations we belong to stand for. We cannot support organizations such as the masons that stand against the Catholic Church and have its downfall as one of their objectives. I encourage you to speak to friends whom you may know are involved in masonry and ensure, for their own spiritual well-being, they are aware of the Church’s position on masonic membership. But most importantly why: Jesus Christ is our salvation and He cannot be replaced by any organization, even one that seems to provide brotherhood and service to the community.
Father Alex serves as Vicar General for the Diocese of Evansville and Rector of St. Benedict Cathedral in Evansville.