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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 Bernard Law

I was prompted to do a little searching based on inquiries like the following.

Sent from Mail Form posted at: (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. 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 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

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 persists today.

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 Freemasons:

Magnificat Meal Movement Int. - Catholicism - Freemasonry (Other Links) at 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

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 priest(?)

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 Church:

Humanum Genus, Encyclical Of Pope Leo Xiii On Freemasonry April 20, 1884 at

Curious... (The Question of Freemasonry, by Harmon R. Taylor)

Domus - Diocese of Monterey Under Siege at 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)

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