Knights of Columbus,
Roman Catholicism, and Freemasonry,
The Masons, Masonic sects, Shriners, etc.
Catholics in the United States and
elsewhere may not be Freemasons.
-Letter of April 19, 1996 to U.S. Bishops, by Cardinal
I was prompted to do a little searching
based on inquiries like the following.
Sent from Mail Form posted at: http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/5229/kc1622/survey.htm
(message) As a long time mason and shriner, I am respectfully interested
in our differences and similarities. A member of my lodge is also a
knight of Columbus.
As a summary introduction to the topic,
here are an assembly of excerpts from:
Letter of April 19, 1996 to U.S. Bishops, by Cardinal Bernard Law
[In many cases, the excerpts below are, in turn, excerpts from yet other
sources that are cited by the Letter. In addition, they are not
necessarily in the order in which they appear in the Letter.]
The committee recognizes two problems in
regard to the Masonic question: 1. A pastoral problem for those who have
become or continue to be Masons in good faith on the basis of [a]
less-restrictive interpretation [of the 1917 code of canon law following
Vatican II, and of the revisions in the 1983 code]... 2. A
public-relations problem resulting from the common American perception
of Masonry as a purely social and philanthropic organization.
...many bishops stated in their reply to an earlier survey that
confusion had been generated by a perceived change of approach... Masons
who are daily communicants and active members of Catholic parishes... [i]n
good faith ... asked their pastor and/or bishop for permission to join
the lodge... Many bishops and priests seem to think that the Masonic
lodge is a fraternal benefit society similar to the Knights of Columbus.
As late as October 1984, a nationally syndicated columnist for the
Catholic press was assuring his readers that Catholics "may indeed
hold membership in organizations, Masonic and otherwise, which are not
basically anti-Catholic and do not plot against the church." ...We
have no reason to doubt the testimony of so many American Masons that
they have never heard a word of criticism of the Roman church in lodge
meetings or functions. In fact Masonry rules out discussions of religion
and politics in the lodge... Although it may be important to distinguish
between favorable, neutral or hostile Masonry with regard to the church,
the same distinction, in this context, leads to error because it
insinuates that for Catholics, only membership in a hostile branch would
be inadmissible. (...Masons in 33 Southern and Western states [are]
another matter. The hostility of this group to parochial schools remains
unabated, and readers of the New Age are well aware of the attitude of
the Southern jurisdiction to Roman Catholicism.) ...principles of
Masonry are incompatible with Christian faith and practice whether or
not a specific Masonic organization happens to be engaging in activity
against the church.
...it would still be wrong to join, ...even though Masonic organizations
may not in particular cases plot against the faith, ...because their
basic principles are irreconcilable with those of the Catholic faith.
Catholics enrolled in Masonic associations are involved in serious sin
and may not approach holy communion.
That the church has for centuries condemned Freemasonry and
excommunicated Catholics who joined the lodge or refused baptism to
those who declined to sever their lodge affiliations is clear. That the
church today considers Masonic membership serious enough to deny the
Eucharist to "Catholic Masons" is also clear.
...the church is still opposed to Masonic associations, since their
principles are irreconcilable with the church's doctrine, and ... it
would be seriously wrong to join them. ...the principles and basic
rituals of Masonry embody a naturalistic religion active participation
in which is incompatible with Christian faith and practice. Those who
knowingly embrace such principles are committing serious sin (they might
also fall under the penalty in Canon 1364 in the new code). ...The lodge
honors Jesus Christ as it honors Socrates, Buddha and Mohammed. ...a
Catholic Christian cannot at the same time share in the full communion
of Christian brotherhood and...look upon his Christian brother, from the
Masonic perspective, as an "outsider." ..."In their
support of civil religion, the Masons are militantly
'anti-particularistic,'... They vigorously denounce parochial schools
for challenging the public school system and, implicitly, the unifying
civil religion. ...Perhaps a religious naturalism is better than no
religious belief at all, but for the professing Christian it represents
a retreat from the Gospel. ...Not only does Freemasonry see itself as a
religion, but it sees itself as the universal religion, while
Christianity is simply another of the dozens of sects whose particular
opinions have divided mankind over the ages. ...Its religion is that
general one of nature and primitive revelation—handed down to us from
some ancient and patriarchal priesthood — in which all men may agree
and in which no men can differ. It inculcates the practice of virtue,
but supplies no scheme of redemption for sin...
The second major reason for the church's hostility is the Masonic oath
or rather the series of oaths required of initiates. ..."Either the
oaths mean what they say or they do not. If they do mean what they say,
then the candidate is entering into a pact consenting to his own murder
by barbarous torture and mutilation should he break it. If they do not
mean what they say, then he is swearing high-sounding schoolboy nonsense
on the Bible, which verges on blasphemy"...
The Catholic Church should not launch any kind of new vendetta against
Freemasonry... At the same time it must affirm that membership by
Catholics in the lodge is inappropriate. ...My conclusion is the same as
that of the German Episcopal conference: "In-depth research on the
ritual and on the Masonic mentality makes it clear that it is impossible
to belong to the Catholic Church and to Freemasonry at the same
time." ...Membership in Masonic-related organizations such as the
Eastern Star should be discouraged, but does not carry the same penalty
of exclusion from the Eucharist. Otherwise the position of the church
remains what it has been for many years: Catholics in the United States
and elsewhere may not be Freemasons.
I have found some cryptic references
alleging roots of the Knights of Columbus in Freemasonry, specifically
that some of the secret charms and other rituals in the Knights of
Columbus have been borrowed from Freemasonry. Nothing other than that
assertion has been provided as evidence, and I myself would have expected
to find a greater number of places where this allegation is made if it is
credible at all. Search the web for "Masonic FAQ".
To me, the matter is a fascinating
example of intersections between Canon Law, Church Councils (e.g., Vatican
II), papal documents, American culture and civic groups, U.S. bishops, and
long traditions and deep history. It's a case where the Church has gotten
itself a bit confused, and the confusion persists, esp. in the U.S.
In sum, what I have found is that there
is confusion about whether a practical Catholic can be a Mason, Freemason,
Shriner, etc. The brief answer is definitely not.
The Clearlight Catholic page at http://www.netins.net/showcase/clearlight/mason.html
is the most comprehensive and user-friendly site on the matter that I have
found easily. You may want to read a bit further below before you jump
into this site, however, but do go back to it. It doesn't specifically
include the Knights of Columbus in the matter, and few pages that I
encountered do so. I have been unable to quickly find on the Internet the
pamphlet cited in the following passage from CIN - Freemasonry, Father
Mateo, December 17, 1995 at http://www.cin.org/mateo/9512171.html.
Subject: Freemasonry. Dear Father, I
am wondering why the church prohibits membership in the Masons.
According to a booklet put out by the Knights of Columbus, the Masons
used to have beliefs which differ from ours. The article also said that
many years ago, membership was prohibited under pain of excommunication,
but recently the relationship between Catholics and Masons is "more
congenial". However, it stated that membership is still prohibited
for strong pastoral reasons.
Whether the Knights of Columbus have
published materials addressing Freemasonry, the Order is rigorously
committed to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. The position of the
Catholic Church on Freemasonry is not a friendly one.
The 1917 Code of Canon Law of the
Catholic Church declared, "Persons joining associations of the
Masonic sect or any others of the same kind which plot against the Church
and legitimate civil authorities contract ipso facto excommunication
simply reserved to the Apostolic See."
The more recent 1983 Code, Canon 1374,
reads, "A person who joins an association which plots against the
Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes
office in such an association is to be punished with an interdict."
These passages strongly imply that the
Catholic proscription of Masonry is grounded on plotting. Some also get
the impression that the more recent Code implies that the Church may no
longer consider Masonry subversive to the Church because it does not
mention the Masonic sects explicitly, as the older Code did. This was the
"loophole" that may have initiated the subsequent confusion that
As you consult the sources below, you'll
perhaps find that some efforts by the Church to clarify the issue weren't
always so clear. In the end, the Church, however, now appears to be quite
clear and still forbids Catholics to be members of Masonic sects, even if
the sects are not subversive (which, in many/most cases is perfectly true
in a direct sense), giving the reason that Masonry is grounded firmly in
naturalistic religious tendencies incompatible with the Christian faith,
whether a member knows that explicitly or not. Frankly, however, I would
not take my word for it authoritatively, since it's possible I may be
inaccurate on the matter.
I very highly recommend next consulting
perhaps the most recent (I think) substantial Church document on this
matter. It is quite comprehensive and covers impressively much of what
you'd find piecemeal on some various other sites (some of which are cited
below). It is the Letter Of April 19, 1996, To U.S. Bishops, by Cardinal
Bernard Law, Clarification Concerning Status Of Catholics Becoming
Magnificat Meal Movement Int. -
Catholicism - Freemasonry (Other Links) at http://homepages.iol.ie/~magnific/magnific/fr_sites.html
also provides an excellent links page for the matter.
From a Mason perspective:
Roman Catholic Church Law Regarding Freemasonry, By Reid Mcinvale, Full
Member, Texas Lodge of Research, Holland Lodge No. 1, Houston
From classical Catholic perspective:
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1917) at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09771a.htm
Slightly more recent Catholic
perspective, Catholic Answers:
A (Catholic) Jesuit on the matter, incl.
some canon law, Catholicism Vs. Freemasonry - Irreconcilable Forever, Rev.
Robert I. Bradley, S.J.:
"Masonry - Cult of Liberty,"
from "Catholic Restoration," 'Father' [sic] Donald Sanborn --
offered by some apparently non-mainstream site -- an article by a Catholic
Youth interview a Catholic Youth
Christian Minister on Masonry:
From the Masonic perspective, The Miter
and The Trowel, by William G. Madison, MPS:
From soc.religion.christian, 1) Humanum
Genus -- the Catholic condemnation of Masonry; (2) a defense of Masonry by
a Disciples of Christ minister; (3) a discussion of the Bavarian
Illuminati, who are not Masons but are sometimes confused with them:
The End Days -- Catholic Prophecy and
Doctrine: Mystery of Iniquity, Secret Societies condemned by The Catholic
Humanum Genus, Encyclical Of Pope Leo
Xiii On Freemasonry April 20, 1884 at http://listserv.american.edu/catholic/church/papal/leo.xiii/l13human.txt
Curious... (The Question of Freemasonry,
by Harmon R. Taylor)
Domus - Diocese of Monterey Under Siege
appears to be a conservative Catholic perspective unhappy with the late
Cardinal Bernardin and the Masons.
Hmmmm.... Conclusive evidence that the
Knights of Columbus are rooted in Freemasonry (wink)