A clarification on the CBCP position on Freemasonry and a note on Canon 1374 of the CIC

A clarification on the CBCP position on Freemasonry and a note on Canon 1374 of the CIC

March 24, 2023

Manila, Philippines

The Philippine Hierarchy, as early as 1954 up until the present, has always maintained and defended the official Catholic (magisterial) position on the unacceptability of Masonry, given its serious errors both in doctrine (philosophical tenets) and practices. It has also sought to implement the provisions of Canon Law on penalties that Catholics incur by joining Masonry. Yet, given the sensitivity and delicateness of the issue in the Philippine setting, it has also shown “openness“, in the exercise of pastoral circumspection, towards Catholics who may have unwittingly in good faith sought membership in Masonic associations with the best of intentions.

It is true that on two occasions, the CBCP acted in behalf of the Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines (FAMP) to petition the Holy See to reconsider its proscription of Freemasonry in the Philippines.

First, in 1967, when the Bishops received from FAMP a request to ask the Holy See to repeal its official proscription of Freemasonry (in the Philippines). On account of this, the bishops organized a dialogue in 1968, between Catholic experts and the Masons, the result of which urged the Bishops to at least reconsider the official Catholic position. In that dialogue, the Masons pointed that they did not really hold communion with their masonic counterparts elsewhere in the world who were manifestly anti-Catholic, stressing further that there was nothing essentially anti-Catholic in their constitution and that they were in fact fully committed to cooperate with the Catholic Church.

The Catholic experts, on the other hand, arrived at the conclusion that masonic lodges in the Philippines had been established more for fraternal and social purposes, and that masons in fact in the country wanted a new era of mutual cooperation with the Church. This persuaded the experts to propose that the bishops adopt a more favorable attitude towards the masons, while along the way that the Holy See be petitioned to lift the excommunication of Filipino Catholics who had become members of FAMP.

The CBCP acquiesced and petitioned the Holy See in 1970 to exempt from the provision of Canon 2335 the first three masonic degrees of the FAMP [read: not everyone of them nor the whole of FAMP]. Indeed, not that the bishops necessarily agreed with the arguments presented for it was understood that the exemption being sought would apply only to Catholics who, in the judgment of their Local Ordinaries, joined freemasonry in good faith [read again: otherwise, the excommunication stays]. Clearly, that stance did not remove from the minds of the bishops the objections that had been levelled against masonic beliefs, principles and practices.

Though not directly addressed to the Philippine Hierarchy, the circular letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued in 1974, served as a response. The circular called for a strict interpretation of CIC Canon 2335. Nonetheless, the same circular expressly laid down that the excommunication imposed by said canon applies only to persons who are members of associations that militate against the Church. In a clarificatory note that same year, the CDF stated: “In accordance with the circular letter dated July 18, 1974, which recalls a strict interpretation of Canon 2335, the excommunication applies only to the persons who are members of associations that militate against the Church. It is on the basis of this principle that the position of the members of the different groups must be judged in each particular case.” The statement clearly does not offer a blanket exoneration of all freemasons, but that members of the different groups must be judged in each particular case.

The second instance when the CBCP succumbed to another such request was when then CBCP President, Archbishop S. Villegas, sought to obtain a rescript from the Holy See to have members of FAMP exempted from the sanctions imposed by Canon 1374. It is not known on which grounds the exemption stood arguably justified, but just the same the response of the CDF, through then CDF Prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, was negative. The CDF Prefect insisted that the Church’s official position still stood and that it was not within the competence of the Episcopal Conference to decide on a matter the Holy See had already passed judgment on.

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What may be said of Canon 1374 of the 1982 Code of Canon Law that replaced Canon 2335 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law? Canon 1374, unlike Canon 2335, does not mention any groups in its condemnation. It states: “A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes office in such an association is to be punished with an interdict.”

The question is: without masonic associations being singled out by the present Canon, may Catholics and Freemasons suppose that the prohibition on Catholics becoming members of these associations had thereby been relaxed? To answer this question, the CDF issued a declaration in 1983 that insisted that nothing has changed in the Church’s position. The CDF clarified that the omission was simply meant to extend the application of the prohibition of membership to other associations, whose principles—like those of masonic associations—are perceived to be irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church.

In other words, the generic designation (non-name-specific) used by Canon 1374, namely, “an association which plots against the Church“, was meant to include “all” associations of such kind, and not necessarily to exclude any particular association that is obviously seen to fit the description. The “non-mention” does not mean “exclusion”. The generic designation rather connotes “inclusion“, much more than it indicates “exclusion“.

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From the pastoral perspective, the ECDF expressed openness to the situation of individual Catholics (on a case-to-case basis) and not to the Masonic association as a whole, to determine if such Catholics deserve a less stringent approach (as otherwise required by Canon Law), particularly, if their joining the association is not necessirily tantamount to a formal renunciation of the Catholic faith.

✠ JOSE R. ROJAS, D.D.
Chairman, CBCP Episcopal Commission on Doctrine of the Faith
20 February 2023

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