February 19, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Michael Weninger, a former Austrian diplomat who became a Catholic priest two years after his wife died in 2009, aims to prove in a new book that Freemasons are “certainly not” excommunicated by the Catholic Church and that mistrust since Vatican II toward them is no longer what it used to be. The priest makes this claim despite the 1917 Code of canon law expressly condemning membership of Freemasonry, a teaching that was upheld by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) when he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1983.
In Lodge und Altar (Lodge and Altar), which contains nearly 500 pages and is currently available only in German, Weninger argues that the mistrust hinged on a misunderstanding of the condemnation of the “Grand Orient” Lodge in France for political reasons. He claims that the mistrust of Freemasonry extended beyond France to English-speaking Rites and also contends that Freemasons and the Catholic Church are perfectly compatible.
Weninger was appointed in 2012 to the Pontifical Commission for Interreligious Dialogue by Pope Benedict XVI, one short year after his ordination in the Cathedral of Vienna by Cardinal Christophe Schönborn. Weninger presented his book in the Austrian capital on February 12. Sitting next to him at the conference table was the Grand Master of the Austrian Lodge.
At the meeting, Weninger stated that he had already presented his book to Pope Francis, the highest-ranking cardinals in the Curia, and Cardinal Schönborn. Asked how they reacted, he immediately responded, “with benevolence, without exception.”
Wearing a clerical suit and Roman collar, the former diplomat (and adviser to José Barroso at the European Commission) endeavored to distinguish between what he called “regular” Masons, under the patronage of the Grand Lodge of England, and “anticlerical” and “sectarian” European Masons, mainly active in France and Italy.
According to kathpress.at, the Austrian Catholic news agency, Weninger said during the presentation of his book that during his travels around the world he met a large number of Catholics – according to him, some two million who belong to the lodges linked to the Grand Lodge of England. They told him about their “problems of conscience and mental disorders” linked to the fact that they worried about being excommunicated because of Masonic membership.
“I would reply, with a clear conscience, that they were not,” Weninger insisted.
Admittedly, the Code of Canon Law of 1917 expressly reserved this sanction to any member of any lodge. But according to the former diplomat, the absence of a paragraph expressly condemning the membership of Freemasonry in the new Code of Canon Law of 1983 should tranquilize them completely.
How can this statement be reconciled with a very clear document published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the eve of the day the 1983 Code entered into force on November 27, 1983? The document of the CDF, of which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the prefect, states the following, with the express approval of Pope John Paul II:
Declaration on Masonic Associations
It has been asked whether there has been any change in the Church’s decision in regard to Masonic associations since the new Code of Canon Law does not mention them expressly, unlike the previous Code.
This Sacred Congregation is in a position to reply that this circumstance in due to an editorial criterion which was followed also in the case of other associations likewise unmentioned inasmuch as they are contained in wider categories.
Therefore the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enrol in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.
It is not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authorities to give a judgment on the nature of Masonic associations which would imply a derogation from what has been decided above, and this in line with the Declaration of this Sacred Congregation issued on 17 February 1981 (cf. AAS 73 1981 pp. 240-241; English language edition of L’Osservatore Romano, 9 March 1981).
For Weninger, this declaration does not have the same binding force as the Code of Canon Law – even though he was obliged to acknowledge, during his February 12 talk, that it carries a certain theological weight.
Weninger chose two modes of presentation to make his point. One was related to the history of the Masons in recent centuries, the other to that of recent decades marked, according to the author, by a break with previous systematic condemnations and excommunications on the part of the Church.
Weninger’s first endeavor was to minimize the role of Freemasonry in its centuries-old struggle against the Church and dogma as such.
According to a review of Loge und Altar published by the German Freemasonry “wiki,” the primary motivation for the “conflict” was simply the “fear of competition” on the part of the Church: a baseless fear, according to Weninger, that the “Brothers” were creating a “new religious community.” The review of the book by Rudi Rabe continues:
But the context of the often massive condemnations that several popes pronounced against the lodges was ultimately motivated more by political than theological reasons. It began as early as the beginning of the 18th century with the struggle for the British throne, in which the Masonic lodges were involved, and continued with the fear of “liberty-equality-fraternity” during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, reaching its climax in the 19th century with the struggle for the Italian nation-state, before which the Papal State-Church had to give way. Either the Freemasons were unknowingly or wrongly accused, or they actually participated, as they did, for example, during the Risorgimento: the birth of the Italian state. On this front, both sides fought mercilessly with their own weapons: Garibaldi’s Freemasons with their rifles and the Popes with their thunderbolts.
But according to Weninger, Rabe assures us that the Church was mistaken: “Freemasonry as such does not exist.”
While Italian but also French Freemasons and Grand Lodges have often acted against the Church politically and militarily (Weninger’s “pseudo-Freemasonry”), against the basic principles of Freemasonry, this does not apply at all to Freemasonry of English orientation. However, most lodges in the world, including most of those in the German-speaking area, are still oriented in this direction. This so-called regular Freemasonry – see the subtitle of the book – is politically very reserved. It maintains a high tolerance and also encourages its members to a certain spirituality, which is absolutely compatible with Christianity. Michael Weninger talks about it again and again in his book.
It would be interesting to know which contours that Weninger gives to this “spirituality,” which by definition is not Catholic. Numerous studies of Freemasonry as such, with its motto Solve and coagula – “destroy and rebuild” – have repeatedly demonstrated its initial esoteric and above-all secret-society status that as such is incompatible with Catholicism.
It is, moreover, remarkable that in France, it is not the “Grand Orient,” which Weninger sees as the only problem, that pushed most effectively to the establishment of the culture of death through contraception and abortion.
Dr. Pierre Simon, who reveals the role he played and that Masonry increased tenfold in view of their legalization in his book De la vie avant toute chose, “Life Before All Things,” was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of France, a spiritualist lodge of the Ancient Scottish Rite.
The story of Serge Abad-Gallardo, a member of the Human Rights Lodge in France (“loge du Droit humain,” attached to an international network linked to the symbolic Scottish Grand Lodge), also deserves a mention here. Abad-Gallardo has witnessed in several books to the Luciferian character of Freemasonry, which becomes evident as one moves up in rank. In his book Je servais Lucifer sans le savoir (“I served Lucifer without knowing it”), he explains, for example, how Freemasonry in general and his lodge in particular served the advancement of the culture of death, notably to impose the legalization of euthanasia.
Weninger’s second line of Freemasonry defense that would not be anti-Catholic, because it is not secularist – quite a hasty conclusion – concerns the change in attitude of the Church during the 20th century. Here, Weninger has strings to his bow, even if to make his point he is obliged to minimize the text of Cardinal Ratzinger expressly approved by John Paul II.
“On several occasions there have been hopeful approaches to an understanding, but to the pattern of two steps forward and one step back,” regretted the clergyman, in the words of the reviewer of his book. The most recent of these “steps backwards” was of course the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Here, we can turn once again to Simon, who in De la vie avant toute chose also highlighted the rapprochement between French Catholic leaders and Freemasons, precisely at the time when the battle raged in France for the legalization of contraception and then abortion.
Weninger, for his part, believes that the time has come again for rapprochement: slowly, because the Church is an institution that’s “more than a millennium and a half old,” Rudi Rabe notes rather oddly in his account.
Rabe lists the main chapters of the book, explaining in particular that the “Masonic mystery” has, according to Weninger, “nothing to do with religious mystery.” It is rather “only a personal experience, through the very personal experience of ritual work, through the interiorization of the Masonic experience.”
These rituals, a mix of apparently absurd folklore and deliberate esotericism, have been analyzed and ripped to pieces by many authors, among whom Abad-Gallardo proves to be particularly accessible to today’s readers.
After a historical presentation of the appearance of so-called “speculative” Freemasonry, which claims to work in view of “the improvement of society,” which Weninger balanced by also speaking of the “excesses of Freemasonry,” he enumerated the 80 condemnations of Freemasonry by the papacy, with emphasis on supposedly political reasons. The overthrow of the Papal States at the time of Pius IX was suggested to be a high point.
This is the central point of Weninger’s argument, as Rudi Rabe reports:
“Under his successor Leo XIII, the encyclical Humanum Genus reached its climax. The two sides were not doing each other any favors. The mutual and often malicious attacks lasted until the beginning of the century, after which the storm slowly subsided. But, as a reminder: on the Masonic side, only the Roman lodges fought: especially the Italians. But as the popes made no distinction, their verdicts struck all Catholic Freemasons, including those of English orientation, although they had nothing to do with the struggle for the unification of Italy and the French ‘cultural wars.’”
The 20th century, from the end of the First World War and especially, noted Weninger, since Vatican II, has been marked by the birth and then the acceleration of dialogue between these two parties moving towards “reconciliation.”
This dialogue was particularly strong in Vienna at the end of the 1960s when Austrian Cardinal Franz König held talks with Austrian, German and Swiss Freemasons “in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.” This was to lead to the “Declaration of Lichtenau” in 1970, in which both sides declared that Freemasonry is not a religion and shares with Catholicism the commandment to love one’s brothers and all people. It presented the excommunication of the Freemasons as a “relic of history.”
The author also identifies a “special dialogue” in Germany between 1974 and 1980. It is to this and to the action of Cardinal König that, according to Weninger, the disappearance of the express mention of Freemasonry in the new Code of Canon Law of 1983 is to be attributed. For his part, he devotes lengthy developments to the legal nature of the Declaration that preceded its entry into force by one day.
Today, according to Weninger, “the time for reconciliation has never been so favorable.”
This is due, he contends, to the fact that on the socio-political level their relations are today much less “confrontational,” as both are marked by “forces of reflection and reform.”
Not surprisingly, Georg Semler, Grand Master of the Austrian Lodge and a self-proclaimed Catholic, welcomed Weninger’s work as an important step toward reconciliation. He believes it will have to be achieved through “one or two official gestures.” According to Weninger, this could be done through a meeting of the Grand Masters with representatives of the Church: the Pope himself or the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
And thus the Church would no longer condemn this parallel hierarchy that acts discreetly alongside, or even in the place of, the visible political, administrative and economic leaders, an heir to various forms of Gnosis, less a servant of reason, as one might imagine, than a throwback to the ancient Kabbalists. In France, Freemasonry now openly claims its action to influence the adoption of new laws. It hates dogma and claims to put man at the center as master of his own destiny.