The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines released a document reiterating that nothing has changed in the Catholic Church’s ban on its followers joining Freemasonry.

In a statement released on March 24 but signed on Feb. 20 by Libmanan Bishop Jose Rojas, chair of the CBCP’s Commission on the Doctrine of Faith, the CBCP reiterated that nothing has changed in the Church’s teachings against Freemasonry and that Catholics are still forbidden to become Freemasons.

The CBCP commission said that “as early as 1954 up until the present” it has always maintained and defended the official Church position on “the unacceptability of Masonry, given its serious errors” both in its philosophical tenets and practices. 

The commission recalled how, on two occasions, the CBCP acted on 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.

The first was in 1967 when the CBCP received a request from the FAMP to ask the Holy See to repeal its official proscription of Freemasonry (in the Philippines). A year later, the bishops organized a dialogue between Catholic experts and the Masons, where “the Masons pointed that they did not really hold communion with their masonic counterparts elsewhere in the world who were manifestly anti-Catholic” and that their constitution does not contain anything anti-Catholic and that they were fully committed to cooperate with the Catholic Church.

The Catholic experts arrived at the conclusion that Freemasons in the Philippines have no anti-Catholic stand and are more for fraternal and social purposes, working for mutual cooperation with the Church. The experts proposed that the bishops take a more favorable attitude towards the masons, and petition the Holy See to lift the excommunication of Filipino Catholics who had become members of FAMP.

In 1970, the CBCP petitioned the Holy See to exempt Filipino Catholics from the provision of the 1917 Code of Canon Law’s Canon 2335, which forbids Catholics, under the penalty of excommunication, to join Masonic or other similar associations.

However in 1974, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a circular letter seemingly addressing the petition of the CBCP.  The CDF called for a strict interpretation of Canon 2335 and that the excommunication imposed by the said canon applies only to persons who are members of associations that plot against the Church. 

In a clarificatory note issued the same year, however, the CDF stated that “the position of the members of the different groups must be judged in each particular case.” The CBCP said the “statement clearly does not offer a blanket exoneration of all freemasons”. 

“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,” the statement said quoting the Vatican declaration. 

The second instance was when then-CBCP president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas sought to obtain a rescript from the Holy See to have members of FAMP exempted from the sanctions imposed against Masons under Canon 1374 of the new Code of Canon Law which took effect in 1982. However, the CDF Prefect at that time, Gerhard Cardinal Müller, insisted that the Church’s official negative position against Freemasons has not changed and that the CBCP or any episcopal conference does not have the competency and authority to “decide on a matter the Holy See had already passed judgment on.”

While the 1917 Code of Canon Law specifically mentioned Freemasonry but the 1982 Code of Canon Law did not, the CBCP said that the 1983 declaration of the CDF, signed by its then prefect, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI), insisted that nothing has changed in the Church’s position against Freemasonry and that the ban is extended to any association, “whose principles—like those of masonic associations—are perceived to be irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church.”

“The faithful who enrol in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion,” the declaration said.

However, the CBCP commission concluded its statement that it expresses its “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 (sic) tantamount to a formal renunciation of the Catholic faith.”

In Feb. 2020, the CBCP issued its “Pastoral guidelines in dealing with individual Catholics – members of Masonry” where it highlighted key beliefs and philosophies of Masonry that are contradictory to Catholicism.

While belief in God is a requirement for membership to Masonry,  the CBCP noted that a candidate for membership, however, is never required to say what god he believes in. It simply requires that one believes in some deity and name that deity as one pleases. “In other words, any god will do” thus, making all gods of other religions equal to Jesus Christ who is both man and God to Catholics. 

“This may appear like an attempt to respect all religions and uphold the fundamental right of religious freedom,” but the CBCP said it reflects Masonry’s religious indifferentism regarding all religions as of equal worth leading to the conclusion that there is no one true Church.

“That is the reason why Masonry also subordinates faith (the Catholic faith in particular) to that of the lodge, obliging members to place a fundamental secularist fraternity above communion with the Church.”

The CBCP also said that Masonic rituals contain “considerable material which are heretical, and in some instances explicitly anti-Catholic because they “show, from the words used and through the symbols, a character similar to that of the Sacraments.” 

“From all these, one can clearly see that Masonry is a threat to the faith of Catholics and the freedom of the Church to act in society. The undermining of the teachings of the Church, and the subordination of her authority on matters of faith and morals, indeed constitute a plot against the Catholic faith.” – Rommel F. Lopez