Rome has made a gesture of outreach to “Brother Masons.” Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi — President of the Pontifical Council for Culture — makes the following statement in Il Timone magazine:
…These various declarations on the incompatibility of the two memberships in the Church or in Freemasonry, do not impede, however, dialogue, as is explicitly stated in the German Bishops’ document that had already listed the specific areas of discussion, such as the communitarian dimension, works of charity, the fight against materialism, human dignity and knowledge of each other.
Further, we need to rise above that stance from certain Catholic integralist spheres, which – in order to hit out at some exponents even in the Church’s hierarchy who displease them – have recourse to accusing them apodictically of being members of Freemasonry. In conclusion, as the German Bishops wrote, we need to go beyond reciprocal “hostility, insults and prejudices” since “in comparison to past centuries the tone and way of manifesting [our] differences has improved and changed” even if they [the differences]still remain in a clearly defined way. (Translation: Francesca Romana, OnePeter5)
Notably, Cardinal Ravasi was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Ratzinger) in 2010, yet he takes a very different view to that expressed by the man once known by the moniker “God’s rottweiler ,” for his enforcement of orthodoxy. Cardinal Ratzinger declared, in 1986, that “the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged” and that “The faithful who enrol in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.”
What is important here is that the Church does not seem to be backing away from such statements, but is suggesting a dialogue to find some kind of mutual support in issues of “communitarian dimension, works of charity, the fight against materialism, human dignity and knowledge of each other.”
Before moving on, I should point out two observations that I have frequently made about Freemasonry before, and that are relevant here:
(1) The fraternity, or fraternal movement, of Freemasonry can be compared to Confucianism, in that it embodies a spirituality that calls men to improve themselves and to respect society and tradition, but is able to work with, and compliment, the major religion(s) of the society (i.e., Confucianism with Buddhism and Taoism, and Freemasonry with Christianity, etc.).
(2) the “higher degrees” of Freemasonry (which are considered merely optional and historical in the English-speaking world) were, in part, an attempt to re-Catholicize Protestantism in Europe. Hence, for example, the Rose Croix degree is clearly very significantly inspired by Catholicism (as well as by Rosicrucianism). It gave Protestantism back the high ritual associated with the Church, and that ritual was Christian, and it drew even on Catholic history, to a large degree. This doesn’t mean that Catholics can’t object to the substance of Freemasonry, or vice versa. Even with Catholicism, as within any faith, and as within Freemasonry, there will be different opinions.
We should add, also, that in Britain the fraternity has traditionally been closely associated with the Church of England, and in America the early churches were built, it has been shown, by members of Masonic Lodges.
Far from being monolithic, Freemasonry first began to split into various Rites and Grand Lodges during the 18th century. “Regular” Freemasonry in the English-speaking world may be the largest, and has the stamp of legitimacy from the United Grand Lodge of England (descended from the premier Grand Lodge at London), or recognition thereof and (2) from the fact that it has remained relatively faithful to the original Freemasonry of 1717 A.D. and a little later. That is to say, regular Freemasonry in the English-speaking world requires its members to believe in God (though his religion is up to his conscience).
In contrast, some jurisdictions, such as the Grand Orient of France, have long opened their membership to atheists. Moreover, such jurisdictions have also actively promoted atheism, agitated against Christianity, and have been highly politically active — especially in promoting secularism. (Several liberal Freemasons in France worked for the satirical and anti-religious magazine Charlie Hebdo, that was attacked by Jihadists in early 2015.)
“The fight against materialism”
Europe seems determined to undermine its own civilization. When it is not bashing Christianity (I am not a Christian, but I have eyes to see) as an impediment to women’s rights, etc., it is throwing these same rights away in case it they offend another, non-European religion.
“Europe,” Cardina Ratzinger says in his excellent work Europe: Today and Tomorrow (p.11), “is not a continent that can be comprehended neatly in geographical terms; rather, it is a cultural and historical concept.” Unfortunately, the European Union — which should have united its member states on the basis of culture — chose to turn Europe into a kind of economic and moral-political zone — a kind of Euro-Mart with political correctness, to put it more bluntly.
If a dialogue between Church and Lodge were to be merely a kind of political correctness, in which each embraces the other in the name of tolerance, then it will be, at best, a waste of time. There are differences in the world. We don’t have to accept them all; we should merely respect when those differences are based on intelligently held beliefs (if I may put it that way).
If, on the other hand, the Church and Freemasonry can help each other to “fight against materialism” then the dialogue is well worth undertaking. I do not know what Cardinal Ravasi means by “communitarian dimension,” but if he means Europe as a culture and peoples — and not merely people stumbling through an enormous shopping mall — then so much the better.
What about terrorism?
A couple of weeks ago, the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force foiled an alleged terrorist attempt on a Masonic building in Milwaukee. There is, as I have written about in my Crescent and The Compass, a long history of Jihadist anti-Freemasonry, and that part of its ideology is intimately tied to Jihadist anti-Americanism in particular, and anti-Westernism more broadly. Of course, anti-Freemasonry exists elsewhere, such as among the more militant Catholics (including breakaway churches, no longer recognized by Rome). It would be a positive step in the “war on terror,” however, to expel anti-Freemasonry from Western culture, since this, itself, provides cover and — from the extremist’s perspective — legitimization for such Jihadist terrorist-thinking.
Freemasonry and the Catholic Church are deeply rooted in European culture. They are also anti-materialism. And they are also the targets of Jihadist terror.
Freemasonry and the Catholic Church do not, and will not, agree on everything, but they can agree that European culture is worth preserving, that the ideas that fuel terrorism can be challenged, and that materialism and “progress” — often destructive to the world’s and Europe’s cultures — should not be considered the only possible way of thinking and living.
Understanding their differences, these institutions can, and should, work together on that basis.