There was such a dramatic change in the social and theological dispositions towards Freemasonry amongst many European, Argentinian, and North American Catholics immediately following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, that, at minimum, should have provoked a reasonable and rational concern amongst the faithful.
Some have argued that this divergence from the traditional teaching about Freemasonry was just the fruit of an infiltration of Freemasons that began with the Carbonari’s 1859 Alta Vendita plot. However, this analysis is too simplistic.
The Carbonari was an Italian political sect, whose membership was not exclusively composed of Freemasons. It was not a Masonic sect (i.e., beholden as an affiliate or appendant to the Grand Lodge). The fact the Catholic Church has never treated the Carbonari as a Masonic sect, but as a distinct secret society that plots against the Church, is affirmed by Pope Pius VII in his 1821 Ecclesiam a Jesu, and by Pope Leo XIII in his 1826 Quo Gaviora.
This is not the say that there have not been initiated Freemasons throughout the clergy, for that has certainly been true in the past and in the present. Rather, it is to say we can do better in analyzing and verifying those movements inside the Catholic Church which made it more friendly with Freemasons and more sympathetic toward some sects of Freemasonry. This first article will discuss some of the Masonic influences before Vatican II, stretching back some three hundred years. In the next article we will treat more specifically the claim of some to place the blame of infiltration solely on the plot of the Alta Vendita.
Vatican II Red Flags
Truly, smoke signals should have gone up in 1967 when the Scandinavian Bishop’s Conference (consisting of the countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland), following a four-year study into Freemasonry in their dioceses, decided to permit Catholics in their dioceses to retain their Masonic membership, “but only with the specific permission of that person’s bishop.” This deference to the local ordinary on a matter, heretofore, considered to be immutable, was the Scandinavian’s Bishops interpretation of Paul VI’s Apostolic Letter Moto Proprio, De Episcoporum Muneribus, which, itself is an interpretative reading of para. 27 of Lumen Gentium, gave bishops more authority to be the final arbiters of Canon Law.
Truly, alarm bells should have gone off on March 16, 1968, The Tablet (a progressive Catholic international weekly review published in London) reported in their ‘The Church in the World’ news and noted section:
Go-ahead for Catholic Masons: Vatican sources have recently been quoted as saying that Catholics are now free to join the Masons in the United States, Britain and most other countries of the world. However, the European Grand Orient Lodge of Masons, established primarily in Italy and France, is still considered anti-Catholic or, at least, atheistic.
Later that year, The Tablet would also take an Editorial stance in opposition to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae.
Truly, visible panic should have ensued on July 19, 1974, when Cardinal Franjo Seper, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a letter, which was supposedly intended to be private correspondence, to Cardinal John Krol, the Archbishop of Philadelphia at the time, supporting the Scandinavian interpretation of De Episcoporum Muneribus concerning Canon Law No. 2335 (prohibiting membership into societies that plot against the Catholic Church), stating,
Many Bishops have asked this Sacred Congregation about the extent and interpretation of Canon 2335 of the Code of Canon Law which prohibits Catholics, under pain of excommunication, to join masonic associations, or similar associations… Taking particular cases into consideration, it is essential to remember that the penal law has to be interpreted in a restrictive sense. For this reason, one can certainly point out, and follow, the opinion of those writers who maintain that Canon 2335 affects only those Catholics who are members of associations which indeed conspire against the Church.
It was almost hilarious that men who were plotting against the Catholic Church themselves were then putting themselves in a position to tell us which sects of Freemasons were not plotting against the Catholic Church. But this was something that went back centuries.
Pre-Vatican II Efforts to Normalize Freemasonry
This scheme to differentiate the Anglo-sects of Freemasonry (those whose charters and warrants originate from the Mother Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, and Scotland) from the Continental-sects of Freemasonry (those whose constitutions and rites are based upon the Grand Orient Lodges of France and Italy) began in 1738, when on the eve of Pope Clement XII issuance of his Apostolic Constitution In Eminenti apostolatus specula (The High Watch) on April 28, 1738. This Pontiff in fact had to endure the efforts of his nephew, Neri Maria Cardinal Corsini, who attempted to prevail upon him that Freemasonry in England was merely an “innocent mirth.”
Indeed, perhaps Cardinal Neri revealed himself as a Freemason with his choice of those descriptive words, which is, curiously, are the exact instruction given to Freemasons in Article VI of the 1723 Constitution of the Grand Lodge of England (so-called Anderson’s Constitution) concerning how Freemasons ought to behave amongst each other after the official meeting of the lodge has concluded and the brethren are not, yet, gone; “You may enjoy yourself with innocent Mirth . . .”
Pius IX clearly taught in this 1873 Etsi Multa that Church teaching does not distinguish between sects of Freemasonry; “Teach them that these decrees refer not only to Masonic groups in Europe, but also those in America and in other regions of the world.” Nevertheless, Father John E. Burke of the Catholic Board of Negro Mission, reported to the United States Bishops the fact that one of the barriers in place that was preventing more Black Americans from becoming Catholic was that too many of them belonged to forbidden secret societies like the Freemasons. Therefore, he argued, permission should be obtained from the Holy See to allow prospective Black American converts to retain their membership in such societies for the sake of the financial benefits. Burke’s errant finding was that Black secret societies did not present the same threat to Catholics that the White societies did.
The idea of their being a socially acceptable and theologically compatible version of Freemasonry is a myth. All sects of Freemasonry have always been prohibited because they all hold fast to the dogma of indifferentism and the belief that Freemasonry is man’s highest good (see my prior analysis here and here). Yet, to this day, this insane myth, first uttered by Cardinal Neri to Pope Clement XII, continues to be spread throughout the Catholic Church and made amazing strides in the neo-heterodox-praxis of the Catholic faith thanks to the liberal interpretation of para. 27 of Lumen Gentium that birthed De Episcoporum Muneribus in the wake of Vatican II.