On November 12 in Syracuse, Sicily, the Grand Orient of Italy, Palazzo Giustiniani (GOI), sponsored the conference “The Church and Freemasonry: So Close and yet So Far?” The presenters at the conference included the theologian Msgr. Maurizio Aliotta; Bishop Antonio Staglianò of Noto, Sicily; and Sergio Rosso and Santi Fedele, adjunct grand masters of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Italy.
Why was the conference held? According to an interview given to Avvenire on November 1, 2017, Fr. Ennio Stamile (parish priest of Cetraro, Italy) explained that “[n]otwithstanding our differences,” it is good “to undertake authentic paths of service for the common good and for a responsible and transparent commitment to social justice.”
Are we talking about a Catholic-Masonic connection on the level of social justice and solidarity? Let’s see what the principal speakers had to say about it.
1) In his eleven-minute talk, Msgr. Aliotta demonstrated a good knowledge of Freemasonry, indicating several elements that make it incompatible with the Church: anthropocentrism, religious elements and “super-denominational” initiation rites, and a spirit of relativistic tolerance. Aliotta, while aware of the danger of this dialogue being exploited, seemed to favor “collaboration around projects that help us to walk together toward an ever greater humanization.”
2) Sergio Rosso, who spoke for nearly nineteen minutes, illustrated the philanthropic work of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Italy and gave great praise to the charitable action of the Catholic Church in the world. Rosso attempted to distinguish and separate Masonic “secularism” from “anti-Catholicism.” He also recommended Catholic-Masonic cooperation on the level of solidarity in order to “revive an era of the Spirit who is near to us.” Which Spirit?
3) The conference of Bishop Staglianò, the longest, lasted about fifty minutes. His remarks demonstrated only an incomplete knowledge of Freemasonry. He admitted that he has declared in an interview that he doesn’t know anything about Freemasonry.
At the beginning, Staglianò quoted some words from The Magic Flute, the famous opera of the Catholic-Masonic composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). He cited and praised the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who declared The Magic Flute “an opera of divine traits” (words of Staglianò). His Excellency also reported the judgment of Hans Küng on Mozart’s membership in Freemasonry: Mozart became a Mason because only there did he find embodied the Enlightenment ideals of equality, fraternity, and freedom, which he did not see in the Catholic hierarchy of Salzburg.
Perhaps the speaker would have done well to underscore the fact that, already in the 18th century, membership in Freemasonry (including that of Mozart’s time) was incompatible with the Catholic faith due to Freemasonry’s religious indifferentism, relativism, rationalism, esoterism, and Masonic oaths (with cruel punishments threatened for those who betray Masonic secrets). While it’s true that Bishop Staglianò then said that one cannot be both Catholic and Mason, he did not explain or develop the reasons for this incompatibility. Indeed, Msgr. Aliotta really deserved much more time to speak.
However, Bishop Staglianò was not “soft” with the Masons. He said several times that they are excommunicated, with confirmation from 1983 by Cardinal Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Therefore, Staglianò said, between Catholics and Freemasons there is “an abyss-like distance”; there is “excommunication in action.” “You are totally thrown out, truly out,” the bishop said, directly addressing the Masons who were present.
Bishop Staglianò even mentioned the “rumor” according to which there are even priests and bishops who are Masons. If that were true, he emphasized, those priests and bishops are also excommunicated and have “problems with their identity.”
Unfortunately, Bishop Staglianò did not say, or did not say clearly, why Masons are excommunicated, nor why Freemasonry is incompatible with the Church. In that regard, I would like to make a clarification. Canon 2235 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which imposed the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae on Catholics who join Freemasonry, was not renewed in the new Code of Canon Law in 1983 (in effect since November 27, 1983). By virtue of Canon 2235 of the 1917 Code, any Catholic was ipso facto excommunicated by the act of his adherence to, or initiation into, Freemasonry. In its declaration of November 26, 1983, the CDF simply reiterated the incompatibility between Freemasonry and the Church, specifying that Catholic members of Freemasonry are in a state of grave sin and cannot receive Holy Communion. Period. It did not speak of excommunication. For reference, I have several articles on this subject.
Thus, it seems that in reality, from a canonical point of view, Catholic Masons are not excommunicated ipso facto by the act of adhering to, or being initiated into, Freemasonry (in the first degree of Apprentice). However, if in the course of their Masonic formation they embrace and manifest heterodox doctrines, or fall into apostasy, then they incur the excommunication foreseen for the delict of heresy or apostasy (cf. Canon 1364, 1983 Code).
It is also worth noting that Bishop Staglianò lashed out at those Catholics who were perplexed by his participation in the conference. He stigmatized them as Catholics who consider themselves “true” and “pure” and who are instead abysmally “distant.” (From whom? From the Church? From Christ?) Staglianò scolded them for having problems with their Catholic identity. He then said to the Masons in attendance that if there are “urgent, shall we say, anthropological matters” (matters Masons could address in union with Catholics) and if they also want to raise their voice to defend human dignity and religious liberty, then they ought to “show” their true face (as people concerned for the true good of humanity) so that those who have excommunicated them (the Holy See) may come to realize that they have excommunicated “something that does not exist.” He exhorted the Masons: “Let’s walk together in that direction.”
But now, let’s ask ourselves: What would it mean for the Masons to show their true face? Also, would the excommunication or “distancing” of the Masons truly be less only if they “show their face”? If, on the one hand, Bishop Staglianò energetically wants to blame the “distancing” between us on the Catholic side (on “pure” Catholics – does that include Catholic-Masons?), on the other hand, he seems too vague in his hypothesis that there really is a “closeness” in our distance.
In fact, Bishop Staglianò insisted strongly on the right of conscience, saying to the Masons that he did not wish to measure their distance or closeness, but that they must be true in their conscience, in their anthropology, to say that they are not thieves, nor corrupt, nor creators of plots (against the Church), etc. But by speaking in this way, how are the Masons not left in their subjectivism? In effect, those Catholics who adhere to Freemasonry already do follow their consciences.
Therefore, the appeal to conscience is not sufficient; rather, one must also give clear and definite directions. For example: Tell the Masons of the Grand Lodge of Italy they must renounce esoterism, Gnosticism, secularism, and their aversion to dogmas of faith and morals if they wish to draw closer to us Catholics.
Perhaps somewhat irritated by the words harsh words of Bishop Staglianò, the grand master, Santi Fedele, spoke for 18 minutes defending the Grand Lodge of Italy, its public “transparency,” and its right to privacy. Fedele defined the Honorable Rosy Bindi (an Italian politician) as a “Catholic communist.” He denied that Freemasons perform “strange magic rituals in the Temple.” (Even on this point, I would have to object.) He exalted the “secular morality” of Freemasonry and admitted that the “Great Architect of the Universe” of James Anderson’s book Freemasonry (1723) is Deist. Finally – replying again against Staglianò – he declared proudly that he has a “serene awareness” of being “outside the community of believers.”
Permit me to refer to some of my articles, here and here, in which, on the basis of Masonic texts, I underline the essential identity of the Freemasonry of the Grand Lodge as esoteric and based in initiation rituals. Initiation and esoterism (Gnosticism) – here is the true “heart” of Freemasonry, far beyond rationalism, secularism, and humanitarian activity.
Therefore, let’s ask ourselves: To what extent, and to what point, is it possible to publicly cooperate in works of social justice and solidarity with those who practice esoteric and Gnostic rituals, which are very probably open to the influence of superhuman or preternatural influences?
The above article is written by Fr. Paolo M. Siano. It is published here, translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino, with the author’s permission. The original appeared in Corrispondenza romana.