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Freemasonry V. Catholicism

Today in Masonic History we present Freemasonry V. Catholicism.

Freemasonry and Catholicism have had a bad relationship for many centuries. The purpose of this article is not to place "blame" for these issues, it is merely to make them known, there is already too much hate in the world.

Freemasonry and the Catholic church are arguably two of the oldest organizations in the World. Speculative Freemasonry and the Catholic church have never gotten along. I say Speculative since it is probable that Operative Freemasons did on some level "get along" with the Catholic church since the Operative lodges were probably the ones building the cathedrals of Europe. It is unclear why Freemasonry and Catholicism do not get along, although there may be some who will post on social media why they think it is, the real reason is lost in time.

One possible reason that is given, is due to Pope Clement XII. Pope Clement XII issued the first papal bull against Freemasonry stating "For which reason the temporal and spiritual communities are enjoined, in the name of holy obedience, neither to enter the society of Freemasons, to disseminate its principles, to defend it, nor to admit nor conceal it within their houses or places, or elsewhere, under the pain of excommunication ipso facto, for all acting in contradiction to this, and from which the pope only can absolve the dying." Although this still does not answer why. A cardinal-nephew of Clement XII wrote in a letter that it had nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with the fact that a lodge in Florence was corrupt. This claim is interesting since a cardinal nephew of Pope Clement XI, Clement XI and Clement XII are only separated by nine years, Phillip Von Stosch, is the person who started the lodge. It is has been claimed that prior to condemning Freemasonry, Clement XII petitioned the lodge for membership, there is no evidence of this ever happening.

Despite the fact that Pope Clement XII was the one who officially created the papal bull, there were previous statements from the Catholic church stating it's dislike for Freemasonry. As early as the 1500's there are statements being made by clergy referring to Freemasonry as Judeo-Freemasonry, more than likely trying to tie Judaism with Freemasonry as there was an anti-semitic sentiment in Europe at that time. Again this doesn't tell us the why, merely that Freemasonry is, in the eyes of the church, not good.

In more modern times it is has been stated that a Freemason has secrets that he cannot tell his priest, which violates the Confessional. From a historical perspective it is unclear when private confession became a sacrament. It is first mentioned in the council of Trent in 1551. At that time they state that "private confession has always been a part of the Catholic church." There are those, even within the Catholic Church, that question the assertion that it was always part of the church. This would coincide with some of the anti-masonic rhetoric that would have been occurring in the 1500's.

It has also been said that the papal bull was about secret societies as a whole. The fact is that Freemasonry is not a secret society, it is a society with secrets, just like the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic sponsored fraternal organization.

Regardless of the reason for the papal bull, this has become a source for hate between the two organizations. In the 1800's a man named Leo Taxil put himself at the center of the issue of Freemasonry V. Catholicism. Taxil tried to join a Masonic lodge because of his anti-Catholic and anti-cleric views. When his motives were discovered he was told he could not progress any further in the fraternity, he had only gotten his first degree, and that he would have to leave the fraternity. Taxil became enraged and began writing anti-Masonic books, claiming that he was privy to all the horrible secrets of Freemasonry, all of which Taxil made up. To this day, Taxil's book are cited as proof of the horrible things going on in Freemasonry even though Taxil, in an attempt to embarrass the Catholic Church, held a press conference and admitted he made everything up.

Up to this point I am sure people reading this article are saying that I am writing this in defense of Freemasonry, so let's try to change that. Freemasonry does not have a Pope, there is not even a central authority for Freemasonry around the World. That being said in some jurisdictions I am sure there are policies about Catholics not being allowed to join. In fact even in some jurisdictions where Catholics are permitted to join, there are brothers who don't understand that from the standpoint of their jurisdiction Catholics can join. It has become a situation where people who don't understand the history, make assumptions and declare that Catholics need not apply. I recently read an article that someone had written talking negatively about the Catholic church, largely because of the ban imposed by the Catholic church on it's members joining the fraternity. The article itself was fairly hostile blaming Catholics themselves for supporting the ban.

Freemasonry can do nothing to change the ban on Catholics joining the fraternity, it is something that, in my opinion Freemasons need to let go of. As I stated at the start of this article there is plenty of hate already. Not long ago I read a Catholic forum where someone asked the question what they should do with some Masonic books they found that belonged to their grandfather or great-grandfather. The vast majority of people responding to the post told the person to burn the books and anything else that seemed to be masonic. Much of the rhetoric was hate filled and the mini-book burning turned into other hate filled rants toward the Masonic fraternity. Although I have not personally seen them, I have little doubt that similar rants exist going in the other direction.

Regardless of the reason for the papal bull banning Freemasons from the Catholic church, Freemasons should always remember that we are admonished not to allow ourselves to be drawn into arguments with those who may not understand the Masonic fraternity. We should also practice that hidden jewel in Freemasonry, Tolerance.