In recent years, many people have been greatly amused by films such as National Treasure and its sequel. In those movies, Freemasons of history helped to build society by passing secrets of hidden national wealth, keeping it out of enemy hands, and in doing so safeguarding the fate of the upstart nation. And who would not enjoy such cleverly conceived tales about these enlightened social builders?
And the list of Freemasons is a veritable who’s who of history (some more favorable than others) – Paul Revere, Napoleon, Benjamin Franklin, Mozart, Churchill, Voltaire, more than a dozen U.S. presidents, and nearly three-dozen U.S. Supreme Court justices. The list goes on and on.
But what about masonic membership? Did not the Church in recent decades change her position? After all, isn’t it just a conspiracy theory that the Freemasons worship Satan? No one can seriously hold that anymore, can they? Plus, it cannot be that bad because so many people are in it. That many people would not be part of a bad thing. Right?
So clearly, according to such reasoning, there can be nothing contradictory between freemasonry and Catholicism?
Quite the contrary: The Church’s position on masonry is and has always remained the same.

An Objection – The Church’s Position has Changed
In 1973, Cardinal Seper, head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, stated that a Catholic who joined the Masons would not be automatically excommunicated for membership if and only if that lodge did not plot against the Church or legitimate civil authority. This seemed to a lot of the faithful like a relaxing of the position. Furthermore, in 1983, the new Code of Canon Law did not contain the prohibition against masonry as the 1917 Code did.

So has the stance of the Church relaxed or changed?

The bishops of the Church have answered that question decidedly in recent years. Their answer: No – the Church’s position has not changed.

First of all, note that Seper lifted automatic excommunication in some instances, but did not approve of masonic membership. Seper himself stated that his letter did not change the force of the existing Canon 2335. With regard to the latter point, the CDF, responding to the perceived confusion, actually issued a decree later that year on the topic:

The CDF “Declaration on Masonic Associations” of Nov. 26, 1983, stated that 1.) the Church’s position on membership in masonic associations “remains unchanged … membership in them remains forbidden”; 2.) since basic masonic principles have always been irreconcilable with Church teachings, membership is a grave sin and precludes a member from receiving Holy Communion; and 3.) local diocesan authorities are not able to deviate from the Church’s universal position in this regard.{footnote}In other words, particular churches do not have the ecclesiastical authority to deviate from the Church’s universal doctrine concerning freemasonry. Some masonic Web sites have widely published a September 2000 letter from the judicial vicar of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in which the vicar stated that it was “probably” acceptable for a Catholic to join a masonic lodge in America. However, not only did the judicial vicar not have the authority to make such a claim, in February 2002 he humbly retracted his “faulty” analysis and asked masonic sites to cease publication of the previous correspondence. The retraction letter may be found on the Web site of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles:{/footnote} Finally, it should be noted that John Paul II himself ordered that Cardinal Ratzinger, new head of the CDF, publish this declaration.

Furthermore, local ecclesiastical authorities have not remained silent on masonry either. On April 19, 1985, Cardinal Bernard Law released a report to the United States Catholic bishops that “shows that the 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.”{footnote}Cardinal Law’s letter also made reference to three studies that explain the issue of incompatibility: the West German bishops conference’s 1980 study of masonic principles and rituals, Purdue University Professor William Whalen’s study of American masonry written for the committee, and an article that appeared in the March 11, 1985, L’Osservatore Romano,

“Irreconcilability Between Catholic Faith and Freemasonry.”
The German bishops, too, in 1980 cited 12 areas of contradiction between masonic membership and Christianity: 1.) the masonic worldview of subjective relativism; 2.) the masonic relativization of truth; 3.) the masonic relativization of religion (masonic doctrine holds that all religions are more or less equal paths to God); 4.) the God of deism is the God of masonry; 5.) a deistic notion of God prevents the possibility of divine revelation; 6.) the masonic concept of tolerance jeopardizes the moral order and respect due to the Church’s Magisterium; 7.) masonic rituals themselves bear a certain sacramental quality; 8.) mankind is believed to be perfected through masonic rituals and association, thus justification, grace, and redemption in Christ are unnecessary; 9.) masonic spirituality; 10.) the diversity within masonic lodges does not diminish the fact that all lodges adopt the Masons’ worldview; 11.) even lodges that claim to be friendly to Catholics are incompatible with the teachings of the Church and are forbidden for membership; 12.) finally, a 1973 meeting of Protestant churches ruled that individual Protestants may decide whether to become members of masonic lodges, warned them not to lessen the necessity of grace in the justification of the person (cf. Rev. Mark J. Grantley, JCL, EWTN Catholic Q&A, March 19, 2006:{/footnote} Even as recently as March 1, 2007, Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, the regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, reaffirmed the Church’s position at a conference on freemasonry at the St. Bonaventure Pontifical Theology Faculty.

St. Maximilian Kolbe and the Founding of the Militia Immaculatae
In 1917 in Rome, on the 200th anniversary of the start of freemasonry, St. Maximilian witnessed Freemasons polluting Rome with their propaganda and marching to the doors of St. Peters bearing banners saying, “Satan must reign in the Vatican. The Pope will be his slave.”

St. Maximilian saw clearly just what was behind the new evil facing the Church:
These men without God find themselves in a tragic situation. Such implacable hatred for the Church and the ambassadors of Christ on earth is not in the power of individual persons, but of a systematic activity stemming in the final analysis from Freemasonry. In particular, it aims to destroy the Catholic religion. Their deceits have been spread throughout the world, in different disguises. But with the same goal-religious indifference and weakening of moral forces, according to their basic principle-“we will conquer the Catholic Church not by argumentation, but rather with moral corruption.”{footnote}Kolbe: Saint of the Immaculata, Bro. Francis M. Kalvelage, F.I., ed., New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, p. 32.{/footnote} St. Maximilian reacted strongly: “In the face of such attacks of the enemies of the Church of God, are we to remain inactive? Is that all we can do-complain and cry? No! Every one of us has a holy obligation to personally hurl back the assaults of the foe.”{footnote}Ibid.{/footnote} In fact, one of the very goals for Militia Immaculatae, founded in 1917, was to combat freemasonry and to help bring those unhappy souls associated with it “to the Immaculate Virgin, through whom so many graces come down to us…”{footnote}Cf. Bro. Charles Madden, O.F.M.Conv., Freemasonry: Mankind’s Hidden Enemy, Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books and Publishers, 1995, pp. 29-30.{/footnote}

The Subtleties and Evils of Freemasonry
In his important work, Freemasonry: Mankind’s Hidden Enemy, Bro. Charles Madden, O.F.M.Conv., helps shed light into the dark secrecy of freemasonry. Explaining the title of the text, he states freemasonry is hidden because it is a secret society and is indeed an enemy because it is hostile to all Christianity, and Catholicism in particular.

On the surface, freemasonry would seem innocuous enough – they believe in God and celebrate certain feasts, such as St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. However, these feast are not celebrated because of the holiness of the saints, rather to celebrate the seasons like the pagan religions of old.{footnote}Ibid., pp. 12-13.{/footnote} They practice baptism, a ritual in which they use many familiar “sacramentals” (oil, water, salt), but again it is to imitate the purification rituals of the ancient Greek, Indian, and Egyptian religions.{footnote}Ibid. p. 14; cf. The Book of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, pp. 557-558.{/footnote}

Ignorance is key. Secrecy is paramount. People enter the lower degrees of masonry without knowing the full truths about the hierarchy. And masonry’s own texts admit their manipulative use of secrecy:

Masonry, like all the Religions, all the Mysteries, Hermeticism and Alchemy, conceals its secrets from all except the Adepts and Sages, or the Elect, and uses false explanations and misinterpretations of its symbols to mislead those who deserve only to be misled; to conceal the Truth, which it calls Light, from them, and to draw them away from it. Truth is not for those who are unworthy or unable to receive it, or would pervert it. So God Himself incapacitates many men, by color blindness, to distinguish colors, and leads the masses away from the highest Truth, giving them the power to attain only so much of it as it is profitable to them to know. Every age has a religion suited to its capacity …
Secrecy is indispensable in a Mason of whatever degree. It is the first and almost the only lesson taught to the Entered Apprentice …

The Blue Degrees are but the outer court or portico of the Temple. Part of the symbols are displayed there to the Initiate, but he is intentionally misled by false interpretations. It is not intended that he shall understand them; but it is intended that he shall imagine he understands them. Their true explication is reserved for the Adepts, the Princes of Masonry. … It is well enough for the mass of those called Masons, to imagine that all is contained in the Blue Degrees.{footnote}Ibid. pp. 6-7; cf. Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma (Richmond, VA: L.H. Jenkins, Inc. Edition Book Manufacturers, 1871; March 1947 ed.), p. 104, 109, 819.{/footnote}

Members are assured that there is no contradiction with their personal religious beliefs, but then they are made to swear an oath in their own blood that they will not reveal the lodge’s secrets. And then what of the higher degrees? The 30th degree ritual of the Scottish Rite includes participants piercing and stomping a papal tiara along with cries of “Down with imposture!”{footnote}Mankind’s Hidden Enemy, p. 8.{/footnote} Imagine joining a group only to find out that the leaders purposefully concealed the nature of the group, distorting the truth to manipulate and lead astray the newly initiated. Knowing this, why would anyone want to join such an organization?

Swearing of Oaths
The swearing of oaths is another reason Church finds freemasonry objectionable. The Catholic faith allows oaths in some exceptional cases (such as in court, in medicine, and so on).{footnote}Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2154.{/footnote} However, the series of masonic oaths bring guilt upon the conscience in vain or rash swearing:

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.{footnote}Mankind’s Hidden Enemy, p. 8; cf. Fr. Walton Hannah, Darkness Visible, p. 21, cited in William Whalen’s “Pastoral Problem of Mason Membership,” a report that was sent to the U.S. bishops in 1985.{/footnote}

Leo XIII’s Encyclical
For anyone wanting a comprehensive treatment on why membership in freemasonry puts a member outside of full communion with the Catholic Church, look no further than Pope Leo XIII’s powerful encyclical Humanum Genus.{footnote}Those wishing to read it online may find the encyclical on the Vatican archive:{/footnote} (Leo, however, is not alone among the modern popes to warn about the dangers of freemasonry.{footnote}The first warning came from Pope Clement XII in 1738 (Apostolic Constitution, In Eminenti, April 24, 1738), and then also by Popes Benedict XIV (Apostolic Constitution, Providas, May 18, 1751), Pius VII (Apostolic Constitution, Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo, Sept. 13, 1821), Leo XII (Apostolic Constitution, Quo Graviora, March 13, 1825), Pius VIII (Encyclical, Traditi, May 21, 1829), Gregory XVI (Encyclical, Mirari, August 15, 1832), and Pius IX “many times over” (Encyclical, Qui Pluribus, Nov. 9, 1846; address Multiplices inter, Sept. 25, 1865, etc.); cf. HG, 4-5. Because of the univocal papal stance, freemasonry was declared “pernicious” in Holland, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Bavaria, Savoy, and in parts of Italy (HG, 6).{/footnote}) A brief outline of Leo’s encyclical follows.
Leo evokes St. Augustine’s City of God, which traces the parallel histories of the city of God – centered on the love of God – and the city of man – built upon the love of self. Freemasonry, the pope states, is the modern city of man. Freemasonry had grown in imposing evil to such an extent that the pope could state: “They are planning the destruction of holy Church publicly and openly, and this with the set purpose of utterly despoiling the nations of Christendom, if it were possible, of the blessings obtained for us through Jesus Christ our Savior.”{footnote}HG, 2.{/footnote}

Freemasonry at its core is a form of naturalism – a belief that holds as its own infallible doctrine that nothing can be held to be true which has been taught by God or anything which cannot be understood by the human intellect.{footnote}Cf. HG, 12-13.{/footnote} Because of this naturalist doctrine, its members are often comprised largely of atheists and those who believe in a deistic or pantheistic notion of God.{footnote}Cf. HG, 17.{/footnote}

While rejecting obedience to the Holy Catholic Church established by Christ upon the rock of Peter, its members oath themselves to be perfectly obedient to superior masons, even to death. Leo comments:

Candidates are generally commanded to promise – nay, with a special oath, to swear – that they will never, to any person, at any time or in any way, make known the members, the passes, or the subjects discussed. Thus, with a fraudulent external appearance, and with a style of simulation which is always the same, the Freemasons, like the Manichees of old, strive, as far as possible, to conceal themselves, and to admit no witnesses but their own members. As a convenient manner of concealment, they assume the character of literary men and scholars associated for purposes of learning. They speak of their zeal for a more cultured refinement, and of their love for the poor; and they declare their one wish to be the amelioration of the condition of the masses, and to share with the largest possible number all the benefits of civil life. Were these purposes aimed at in real truth, they are by no means the whole of their object.

Moreover, to be enrolled, it is necessary that the candidates promise and undertake to be thenceforward strictly obedient to their leaders and masters with the utmost submission and fidelity, and to be in readiness to do their bidding upon the slightest expression of their will; or, if disobedient, to submit to the direst penalties and death itself. As a fact, if any are judged to have betrayed the doings of the sect or to have resisted commands given, punishment is inflicted on them not infrequently, and with so much audacity and dexterity that the assassin very often escapes the detection and penalty of his crime.{footnote}HG, 9.{/footnote}

The vicious history of the Freemasons should dissuade any 21st-century man from joining their ranks. Leo wrote how they had attacked “with impunity” the Church in writing, speech, and in teaching, imposing onerous laws on clergy and uprooting religious orders from state land.{footnote}HG, 14.{/footnote} Additionally, partisans in the sect at the time of the encyclical openly declared that which they had long held in secret: that the papacy itself “must be utterly destroyed.”{footnote}Cf. HG, 15.{/footnote}

Threats of Freemasonry
Pope Leo most prophetically outlines some of the key threats posed by freemasonry.
1. The rampant spread of vice through freemasonry doctrine – Rejection of revelation means rejection of original sin, hence freemasons believe free will is not at all weakened or inclined toward evil, so there is no struggle for virtue, but tendency toward spreading vice.{footnote}Cf. HG, n. 20.{/footnote}
2. Threat to Catholic education and corruption of youth – Freemasons take to education of youth, that they may bend the will of the young to their own purposes, therefore they seek to divest the religious from education of youth.{footnote}Cf. HG, 19, 21.{/footnote}
3. The political threat – Masons possess a misguided notion of equality – that all men are equal in every respect and condition. (Before this is misinterpreted, he states elsewhere, “…no one doubts that all men are equal one to another, so far as regards their common origin and nature, or the last end which each one has to attain, or the rights and duties which are thence derived.”{footnote}HG, 26.{/footnote}) The key thing to observe here is that the power of opinion, rather than natural law, is what shapes law in a masonic worldview. This is what we have seen develop in our own land. Politically, Masons hold that no man should obey any authority but himself and that the state should be altogether without God.{footnote}HG, 22.{/footnote} “The State will appear most deformed” under such a view on equality and total self-determination and autocracy.{footnote}Cf. HG, 27.{/footnote}
4. Threat to the Church – “Their chief dogmas are so greatly and manifestly at variance with reason that nothing can be more perverse. To wish to destroy the religion and the Church which God Himself has established, and whose perpetuity He insures by His protection, and to bring back after a lapse of eighteen centuries the manners and customs of the pagans, is signal folly and audacious impiety. Neither is it less horrible nor more tolerable that they should repudiate the benefits which Jesus Christ so mercifully obtained, not only for individuals, but also for the family and for civil society, benefits which, even according to the judgment and testimony of enemies of Christianity, are very great. In this insane and wicked endeavor we may almost see the implacable hatred and spirit of revenge with which Satan himself is inflamed against Jesus Christ. So also the studious endeavor of the Freemasons to destroy the chief foundations of justice and honesty, and to cooperate with those who would wish, as if they were mere animals, to do what they please, tends only to the ignominious and disgraceful ruin of the human race.”{footnote}HG, 24.{/footnote}
5. Threat to marriage and family – Matrimony is seen as belonging “to the genus of commercial contracts” rather than a sacred covenant.{footnote}HG, 19.{/footnote} Leo issued this prophetic warning about the foreboding danger facing marriage in the future: “If [marriages] are deprived of their sacred character, and made dissoluble, trouble and confusion in the family will be the result, the wife being deprived of her dignity and the children left without protection as to their interests and well being.”{footnote}HG, 24.{/footnote}
6. Threat of societal collapse – If (as the Freemasons’ desire) the power to rule is taken away, a divinely given power, society will collapse.{footnote}HG, 25.{/footnote}

Leo’s Remedies for Freemasonry
But despite these many threats, the Pope gives also a series of remedies for the great plague freemasonry has brought on.
1. Remain true to papal teachings – Leo called upon the bishops and faithful to join in this effort to find a remedy against the Freemasons and not to depart from the teachings of the Roman pontiffs.{footnote}HG, 30.{/footnote}
2. Bishops asked to join the Pope in exposing the truth of freemasonry – Pope Leo asked his brother bishops to help guide the flock through sermons and pastoral letters.{footnote}HG, 31.{/footnote}
3. Return to Christian philosophy – men’s minds can be made sound and protected from error.{footnote}HG, 32.{/footnote}
4. Bishops and laity unite against common evil – The greater the laity love the Church, the more likely they will resist secret societies.{footnote}HG, 33.{/footnote}
5. Strengthen the Third Order of St. Francis friars – Pope Leo encouraged the promotion of these friars because he saw this brotherhood as vital in “suppressing the contagion of wicked societies.” Since the objective of this order is imitation of Christ and life in the virtues.{footnote}HG, 34.{/footnote}
6. Workmen’s guilds – The pope recommended establishment of Catholic workers’ guilds lest people be drawn to the Masons.
7. Education of the young by the bishops – “Devote the greatest part of your care to their instruction; and do not think that any precaution can be great enough in keeping them from masters and schools whence the pestilent breath of the sects is to be feared.”{footnote}HG, 36.{/footnote}
8. Prayer – The Pope urged a response on the part of the faithful comparable to the great evil being perpetrated upon the Church. He urged particular devotion in this regard to the great Mother of God, that she “who from the moment of her conception overcame Satan may show her power over these evil sects.”


In addition to the aforementioned truths about the nature of freemasonry, Hollywood and the media are not so quick to emphasize that Freemasons worked hand-in-hand with the KKK for years, and dominated the Supreme Court from 1940-1970, putting forth many decisions hostile to Christianity. Despite the masonic drive in recent history for an image make-over, no amount of charitable work or social good could justify the moral evil of masonic doctrine.

For any Catholic affiliated with the Freemasons, the message is this: Prayerfully consider leaving the lodge, as the Vicars of Christ by the guidance of the Holy Spirit have determined such membership to be inherently contradictory with Catholic faith. In this way one may be restored to the life of grace and full communion with the Body of Christ.

We must remember Leo’s remedies if the evil of masonry—which has so hindered the good of man and society in the modern era—is to be defeated in our time. But first and foremost among the remedies of the pontiff is prayer, and the hope of victory through the Immaculata.
Modern times are dominated by Satan and will be more so in the future. The conflict with Hell cannot be engaged by men, even the most clever. The Immaculata alone has from God the promise of victory over Satan.

-St. Maximilian Kolbe{footnote}Mankind’s Hidden Enemy, p. 26.{/footnote}
Kevin Clarke is Assistant Editor of He publishes a semi-weekly Web log, The Charcoal Fire.