Opinion

Australian bishops’ Conference secretary: Catholics can become Freemasons ‘with no penalty’

Can Catholics and Masons work together in a 'spirit of harmony'?
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By Kathy Clubb

By Kathy Clubb

December 16, 2019 (Family Life International) — Back in July, I wrote an article for The Remnant on a Queensland priest who publicly admits to having been a Freemason for more than a decade. While that is shocking enough, the most disturbing part of this story was that the priest claims to have a letter from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, giving permission for Catholics to become Masons. This permission was said to be based on the erroneous conclusion that 'Australian' Freemasonry is somehow different from any other form of Freemasonry.

As my previous article explained, the communications officer for the ACBC Secretariat responded to my query with this statement:

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has exchanged private correspondence with officials from the Freemasons in recent years. Fr. Costigan's writings do not accurately reflect the contents of that private correspondence nor any policy of the Conference.

As will become clear, that statement might be technically true, but in no way explains the reality of the correspondence's contents.

Hiding in plain sight

Multiple phone calls and emails to archdioceses over several months rendered little fruit — only independent Catholic news sites and the Freemasons themselves seemed interested in Fr. Costigan's conflicting loyalties. However, a careless social media post led to the discovery of the letter online, along with the letter from the Freemasons which originally sparked the ACBC's response.

That letter was written by the former Grand Master of Northern Territory/South Australia, Stephen Michalak to Fr. Stephen Hackett, the ACBC Secretary, in 2016. In it, Mr. Michalak sought to clarify the Catholic Church's position on its members becoming Freemasons.

Mr. Michalak is himself a Catholic, as were the Grand Masters of Queensland and Western Australia at that time. In his letter, Mr. Michalak expounds on the supposed virtues of Masonry, while also admitting that the Church maintains its ban on Catholics being members. He speaks of his 'long-standing friendship' with a former Vicar-General of Adelaide, who advised him to contact then Vicar-General, Fr. Philip Marshall.

Fr. Marshall advised him to obtain the agreement of all of the Australian Grand Masters before contacting the Church, and suggested to Michalak that he then write to the ACBC 'seeking pastoral resolution to the present challenges as well as outlining a pathway for Catholics who are Freemasons to full participation in the sacramental life of the Church.'

Mr Michalak concluded his letter by stating his hope that Roman Catholic Freemasons will eventually be allowed to receive the sacraments without being in a state of sin.

Fr. Hackett's response

The response from Fr Hackett is dated July 2017, exactly one year after Mr Michalak sent his enquiry. This time was needed, he writes, in order to consult with the Bishops Commission for Canon Law, the Bishops Commission for Doctrine and Morals and the Bishops Conference itself.

Without any explanation other than an acknowledgement of Mr Michalak's glowing report of Masonry, Fr. Hackett expresses his satisfaction that 'Australian' Freemasonry' is not hostile to Catholicism. However, if this is truly the case, then it is reasonable to ask why this assessment has never been made public or revealed to be the official stance of the ACBC — even though, as Fr. Hackett alleges below, the Bishops Conference came to that conclusion in 1984. Surely, if a thorough investigation involving multiple apparati of the ACBC and which took a year to complete had actually taken place, then it would behoove the Secretary to publicly disclose this fact, and to allow the mysterious 1984 directive to be promulgated.

But there is more.

Fr. Hackett goes on to imagine the Church and the Masons working in a 'spirit of harmony' which would be 'informed by circumstance, need and opportunity.' He then makes the following alarming and frankly, false, statement:

Perhaps most importantly for Catholic members of Freemasonry, I can reiterate a directive first made by the Bishops Conference in 1984 and affirmed this year. No penalty attaches to Catholic membership of the Masonic order. The involvement of Catholics in Freemasonry is foremost a moral matter which should normally be dealt with personally and pastorally in the local parish. I suggest that where a local pastoral response is not consistent with this expectation and liturgical-sacramental participation is made difficult or refused, that this might be referred to the local vicar general or to me.

I will raise issue of Catholics and Freemasonry during the annual meeting of Archdiocesan Vicars General, next due to be held in May 2018, to ensure that they are familiar with the preferred approach of the Bishops Conference.

Fr Hackett's excuse — that the secrecy is necessary in case there are some Australian lodges which are hostile to the Church — does not hold water, since he provides no criteria by which to judge 'hostility' and given that the Church condemns all Masonry in any case.

"No local authority has the competence to derogate from these judgements"

In case there is any doubt as to the Church's constant teaching on Freemasonry's incompatibility with the Faith, a summary of the most recent Vatican directive on Masonry is given below. This was the 1983 Directive on Masonic Associations from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and it was issued after the Code of Canon Law was changed in that same year, omitting the charge that Catholic Freemasons incur ex-communication. That revision had caused confusion amongst Catholics who in some cases assumed that there was no longer any penalty attached to their holding Masonic membership. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger felt compelled to issue the Directive in order to dispel confusion about Freemasonry. According to the 1983 Directive:

1. The Church's negative judgment on Masonry remains unchanged, because the Masonic principles are irreconcilable with the Church's teaching.

2. Catholics who join the Masons are in the state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.

3. "No local ecclesiastical authority has the competence to derogate from these judgments of the Sacred Congregation."

That last point, regarding a prohibition on local authorities to promulgate an alternative teaching on Masonry, is very pertinent in this case. For in suggesting that the Australian Bishops Conference can administer a bespoke interpretation of the relationship between Masonry and the Church, Fr. Hackett is in clear violation of the CDF's directive. Obviously, he has also violated the first point by suggesting that so-called 'Australian Freemasonry' can be reconciled with the Church, and the second by failing to advise Catholics who remain Masons that they are not to receive Holy Communion.

Fr. Hackett's claim that the ACBC directive of 1984 approved Freemasonry after the CDF's definitive proclamation hints at an arrogance that defies belief.

Freemasonry is an "instrument of Satan"

Fr. Hackett's assessment of Freemasonry, in addition to violating the 1983 Directive, stands in contrast with that of the many popes, bishops and laymen who have denounced Masonry since its inception four hundred years ago. In fact, there have been more than twenty encyclicals and papal bulls written on this matter by the popes alone.

The most famous of these, Humanum Genus, was written by Pope Leo XIII in 1884. In it, Pope Leo wrote,

We wish it to be your rule first of all to tear away the mask from Freemasonry, and to let it be seen as it really is; and by sermons and pastoral letters to instruct the people as to the artifices used by societies of this kind in seducing men and enticing them into its ranks, and as to the depravity of their opinions and the wickedness of their acts.

As our predecessors have many times repeated, let no man think he may for any reason whatsoever join the Masonic sect, if he values his Catholic name and his eternal salvation as he ought to value them.

In 1985, American Cardinal Law specifically debunked the idea that Masonry could be acceptable even if ostensibly not hostile to the faith, when he said: "And even though Masonic organizations may not in particular cases plot against the faith, it would still be wrong to join them because their basic principles are irreconcilable with those of the Catholic faith."

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, in a December 2016 talk, referred to Freemasonry as the 'Instrument of Satan,' reminding Catholics that St Maximilian Kolbe founded his Knighthood of the Immaculata in direct response to threats from the Italian Freemasons of his day. As Bishop Schneider pointed out, reiterating the Church's constant teaching, Freemasonry's goal is "to eliminate the entire doctrine of God, especially Catholic doctrine."

Former 32nd degree Mason, layman John Salza, is just as blunt. He states that "Freemasonry is a religion that is opposed to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. That's the bottom line."

The Bishops respond

FLI contacted Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, Vice-President of the ACBC and Archbishop Julian Porteous for a response to our queries:

Archbishop Fisher stated via his private secretary that:

... he has no recollection of this being discussed at the Bishops Conference. The 1983 Declaration on Masonic Associations from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear that Catholics who enrol in Masonic activities are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion. Furthermore, the Declaration expressly says it is not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authorities to derogate from this.

Further, the Archbishop said that it is his understanding that while penalties have varied, the Church has never been in favour of Catholics joining any secret organisations with quasi-religious doctrines.

Additionally, Archbishop Fisher's secretary drew our attention to the 1937 Plenary Council for Australia which passed a decree that prohibited Catholics becoming members of the Freemasons.

Paul Hanrahan spoke to Archbishop Julian Porteous, FLI's Patron, who would like to withhold any comment until he has had a reply to his letter to Father Stephen Hackett MSC, asking him for clarification, especially where he received the information he has quoted. He does however endorse the comments of Archbishop Anthony Fisher.

"For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed"

It's quite ironic that attempts by Catholic clergy to undermine the Church by embracing Freemasonry were undone by that 'secret' society advertising the fact on social media.

One day, as Jesus has promised us, all such secrets will be laid bare. But in the interim before that fearful day, there are sure to be many more betrayals revealed.

In light of the ACBC's failure to adequately defend the Church's teaching on a matter as fundamental as Catholicism's incompatibility with Freemasonry, it should also be asked how any sane Catholic could expect the upcoming Plenary Council to fare any better.

Unless information to the contrary is made known by the bishops, Catholics could well conjecture that there exists in Australia a cabal of the clergy who are involved in Freemasonry, a number that is possibly not insignificant. Knowing the sad state of the Catholic Education system, the widespread incidence of heterodoxy in Australian parishes, unfettered homo-clericalism and its attendant abuse scandal, as well as the continued failure of anyone in authority to censure Fr Costigan — a spiritual work of mercy that is the obligation of every bishop — those fears would not be unfounded.

The offices of the Bishops Commission for Canon Law, the Bishops Commission for Doctrine and Morals, the Vicars-General and the Bishops Conference itself might be a good place to start looking.

The letters in question from Grand Master Stephen Michalak and the response from Father Stephen Hackett MSC on letterhead of the ACBC can be found here.

Published with permission from Family Life International.


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