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Masonic Service Association of North America

Focus January 2002

The Guild that Grew and Grew

That was the way the Wall Street Journal titled the review by Daniel Mark Epstein of Jasper Ridley's book The Freemasons. (Arcade Publishing, Inc., 2002) While discussing many aspects of Freemasonry, including some negative ones, such as the alleged Masonic involvement in the Morgan Affair, the review was extremely fair. Mr. Epstein concluded "In short, no lodge of Freemasons could ever be any worse, or any better, than the men who built it."

European Court Decision

The Grand Orient of Italy has made the following statement concerning a European Court decision upholding the right of association for Freemasons.

I am very pleased to inform you that the European Court of Human Rights of Strasbourg has rejected the objection presented by the Italian Republic, and so it has condemned it for having violated the right of association with a Law of Marche Region, which states that the candidates to Regional Offices must declare to not be members of Masonic Lodges.

This judgment is important because it protects a fundamental freedom; it is a cornerstone not only for the Grande Oriente d'Italia, but also for Regular Freemasonry all over the world.

Giuseppe Malignano Stuart, Grand Secretary

Retraction of Letter

In the January 2001 issue of Focus a letter from the Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was reprinted. The letter concerned Masonic membership by a practicing Catholic.

Unfortunately, the response, which was a qualified affirmative reply, has been retracted. The letter of retraction is reprinted below in this issue of Focus.

The Masonic Information Center website (www.msana.com) also carries the retraction.

On 15 September 2000 I wrote you a letter in which I gave my opinion in answer to the question you had asked, "whether a practicing Catholic may join a Masonic lodge." As you know, I gave a qualified affirmative reply ("at least for Catholics in the United States, I believe the answer is probably yes"). My qualification was based on two points, uncertainty about the beliefs and teachings of Freemasonry, especially as this may vary locally, and uncertainty about the interpretation and application of the statement issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 26 November 1983. I concluded that the historical development of the Church's law was away from a blanket prohibition to a case-by-case assessment of what constitutes an association forbidden to Catholics.

As a result of my letter having been posted on several Masonic websites and of various inquiries this generated, it has come to my attention that my analysis was faulty, and accordingly I need to retract my opinion. I realize this will create much consternation, and I apologize for that. Please let me explain.

In early 1985 the Congregation mentioned above published an explanation of its position as given in the November 1983 statement. The explanation can be found in the English edition of the Vatican's official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano (11 March 1985, page 2) under the title "Irreconcilability between Christian faith and Freemasonry. Reflections a year after declaration of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

The key point in the argument is that the system of symbols common to Freemasons around the world (centering on the Architect of the Universe and given added weight by the rule of secrecy) tends to foster a "supraconfessional humanitarian" way of conceiving the divine that neutralizes or replaces the faith dimension of our relationship with God. Even though given lodges may abstain from endorsing any particular position, including one that considers religious faith to be a matter of indifference (i.e., nothing more than a matter of personal preference), the contemporary world's social atmosphere of moral and religious relativism creates a climate in which a merely humanitarian symbol system works to undermine the religious faith by which we receive God's revelation.

It was for this reason that the Congregation declared that local church authorities are not competent to give a judgment on the nature of Masonic associations, and has reserved to itself the right to make any such pronouncements. Because of the serious danger posed to individual Catholics by the subtle but real influence of symbols described above, the Congregation declared that it would be objectively a grave sin for a Catholic to join a Masonic lodge. The prohibition from receiving Holy Communion is meant to highlight the gravity of the situation.

Let me add that the Congregation's explanation explicitly acknowledges "the efforts made by those who, with the due authorization of this Congregation, have sought to establish a dialogue with representatives of Freemasonry." I hope that this dialogue continues and that it will serve to clarify the philosophical, theological, and anthropological principles by which we understand our roles in human society.

I regret that my earlier letter has undoubtedly led people to misunderstand the concern behind the official statement of the Church's position regarding membership in Masonic societies. I ask that my letter of 15 September 2000 be removed from all websites and be replaced with this new letter.

Sincerely,

Rev. Thomas C. Anslow, C.M., J.C.L. Judicial Vicar

12 February 2002

 

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