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Bishop Antonio Staglianò at the Catholic-Masonic conference, Feb 16, 2024.Video screenshot

ROME (LifeSiteNews) — A prominent Vatican theologian has been accused of backtracking and practicing “doublespeak” after his recent interventions opening the door to Catholic-Freemason dialogue by accentuating the ideas of “love and mercy.”

On February 16, Bishop Antonio Staglianò, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Theology, took part in a closed-door meeting in Milan between Catholics and Freemasons. The event, organized by the Socio-Religious Research and Information Group (GRIS), was also attended by Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, Milan’s Archbishop Mario Delphi, and the head of Italy’s leading Masonic lodge Grand Orient Grand Master Stefano Bisi. 

READ: Vatican cardinal calls for ‘permanent’ Catholic-Freemason dialogue at ‘historic’ joint event  

According to La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, Staglianò “gave a long speech-show tearing apart the doctrinal approach on the Catholic side and basically going along with the demands of the Freemason exponents.”

Staglianò had been due to expound on the reasons for “irreconcilability between the Catholic Church and the Masons,” but La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana reported that he in fact criticized the Vatican’s November document that reaffirmed the Church’s teaching prohibiting Catholics from joining the Freemasons.

The bishop, reported La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana’s sources from the event, “demonstrated great familiarity with several Masonic exponents” while in the room.

But following La Nuova Bussola’s report highlighting Staglianò’s apparent sophistry and attempts to downplay the Catholic condemnation of Freemasonry, it appears the bishop felt under pressure to defend himself from the new scrutiny he found himself under.

On February 25, the Pontifical Academy of Theology published the video of his talk, along with a summary of his speech. The published summary focussed on the differentiating points between Freemasonry and Catholicism, especially defending Pope Francis’ much-vaunted style of “fraternity” from accusations that it is rooted in a Masonic form of brotherhood.

This move he had prefaced by giving a lengthy interview to the Italian-language edition of Vatican News on February 24, in which he condemned Freemasonry as “a heresy that is fundamentally aligned with the Arian heresy.”

The teachings of Catholicism and Freemasonry were irreconcilable, Staglianò told Vatican News, once again seeking to distinguish Pope Francis’ teaching on fraternity from that espoused by the Masons – a distinction which has been rejected by Catholic critics of Francis’ teaching along with Masons who welcomed the Pope’s words. “Our fraternity is established on the sacrament of God’s love in Jesus, it is established on the Eucharist, not only on the generic idea of being brothers,” Staglianò said.

Doctrine or ‘love and mercy’?

It thus appears that Staglianò, while outlining part of the technical condemnation of Freemasonry by the Church, nevertheless focusses on a concept of welcoming in which friendship has the upper hand over doctrine, very much in a style imitating that of Pope Francis. The retroactive publication of his talk at the Catholic-Masonic conference – an event described by Grand Master Bini as “historic” – has consequently been described as “doublespeak.”

In a February 26 comment provided to LifeSiteNews, Riccardo Cascioli – founder and editor-in-chief of La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana – stated that Staglianò’s moves in recent days were an “attempt… to defend himself because of the uproar caused by the Nuova Bussola’s revelation about his presence and contribution to the Milan seminar on ‘Church and Freemasonry.’” 

“He does this by hiding the true meaning of what happened that day,” said Cascioli. Indeed, writing in Nuova Bussola, Cascioli highlighted that Staglianò’s interview with Vatican News “only repeats some of the concepts expressed in the Milan conference, leaving out the more questionable ones, some of which were reported by Daily Compass.”

READ: Prof. de Mattei backs Fr. Murr’s claims about the 1978 Vatican investigation into Freemasonry

Continuing his comment to LifeSiteNews, Cascioli underlined two points about the Vatican prelate’s actions. Firstly, he noted that “by listening carefully to the full recording, we find that on the one hand, he affirms the profound diversity between the Christian God and the Masonic Grand Architect, but on the other hand, he overcomes the doctrinal obstacle with the concept of love and mercy, which embraces everything.”

Cascioli continued by noting an aspect raised by Grand Master Bisi at the conference, namely, why Pope Francis appeared increasingly welcoming to homosexuals, but not to Freemasons. “Staglianò was speaking at a seminar attended by the Grand Masters of the three main Italian lodges, who asked a precise question: ‘Why should blessings be valid for gay couples and not for Freemasons?’” said Cascioli. 

He added that the bishop responded to the Masons’ query by “suggesting it is by God’s blessing that ‘falls on the just and the unjust’ that a way can be found. And likewise when he concludes by invoking a ‘sound sapiential theology’ that goes beyond the doctrinal approach.”

Cascioli further questioned why Staglianò has been taking part in such Catholic-Freemason meetings “for years,” if he is “truly convinced of the absolute irreconcilability between the Church and Freemasonry,” additionally questioning Staglianò’s openness to a “permanent table” of discussion between Catholics and Freemasons.

I am convinced, this is a case of the consolidated style typical of this pontificate: while doctrine is affirmed, actions deny it. And as we know, in the end, actions speak louder than words.

In his own published commentary on the developments, Cascioli argued that Staglianò was exhibiting a classic trait of Vaticanese politics: “The tactic is always the same: words say that doctrine does not change, but then there is life to consider, which is always greater than doctrine. This is exactly the sense of the Staglianò’s speech in Milan.”

READ: Abp. Viganò: ‘Fratelli tutti’ means acceptance of everything…except being Catholic

The Catholic Church has consistently and firmly forbidden Catholics from joining the Freemasons, which was restated by the Vatican in recent weeks. Pope Clement XII’s 1739 papal bull, In Eminenti, judged Freemasonry so serious a matter, and membership in it so dangerous, that he imposed an automatic excommunication, latae sententiae, on any Catholic who joined the Freemasons.

This teaching has been reaffirmed by the Church constantly and even as recently as November 2023. 

Despite this, Francis has promoted ideologies which have been described as very much in line with the Masonic thought. His 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti promotes a “Universal Brotherhood” and also links back to Francis’ own controversial 2019 Abu Dhabi document on human fraternity, both of which are widely criticized texts within Catholic circles.

Fratelli tutti has been condemend by former Papal Nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, as promoting a “blasphemous” form of brotherhood without God as well as “religious indifferentism.”

A prominently vocal German priest also described Fratelli Tutti as being interwoven with “Masonic” ideology. Francis’ push for religions to be on an equal footing, Father Frank Unterhalt noted, was a key element of Masonic goals. 

Indeed, after Fratelli Tutti’s publication, it was welcomed by the Masonic Lodge of Spain, which stated it was “the latest encyclical” of Pope Francis in which he “embraces the Universal Fraternity, the great principle of Modern Freemasonry.”

“Pope Francis’ last encyclical shows how far the current Catholic Church is from its former positions,” the Lodge wrote.