A priest in the South of France has been suspended from his ministry in the Diocese of Annecy after it was revealed that he is actively a member of a Masonic Lodge, Catholic News Agency reported yesterday. The Church has condemned membership in Freemasonry on the part of any Catholics for well over two centuries, and those laypersons who join “Masonic associations” incur excommunication latae sentiae.
The Church has historically opposed Freemasonry because of the long history of Masonic Lodges and associations playing leading roles in conspiracies against the Church. This was especially true in France during the French Revolution of 1789, which gradually turned into an anti-Catholic pogrom during the so-called “Reign of Terror” in which members of the clergy were required to swear an oath of loyalty to the revolutionary state or lose their heads. The Civil Constitution On the Clergy abolished monastic orders in France and made clergy dependent on the state alone. This movement was the beginning of a larger movement to de-Christianize France that had its origins within Freemasonry. Thomas Jefferson, who was a Freemason, is often said to have had sympathy for these de-Christianizers (which included the philosopher Voltaire, also a Freemason) when he served as American Minister to France during the French Revolution. While it is extremely simplistic to lay the blame of the entire French Revolution at the door of Masonic Lodges (there were Freemasons who were also monarchists), many Masonic associations actively brag on Masonic involvement in the French Revolution and the effort of “active in building, and rebuilding, a new [and anti-Catholic] society.”
The “religious indifferentism” of Masonry is a chief reason for the Church’s continued opposition to Catholic membership in the Lodge. Father Paschal Vesin apparently believed that he could get away with being a Freemason without being discovered by his bishop or other competent Church authorities. He was suspended from ministry after refusing to renounce Masonry, saying that his decision “the expression of my absolute freedom of conscience within the Catholic institution.” Apparently Father Vesin’s oath as a member of his local Lodge is more important than his vows of obedience to God Almighty to obey his bishop as a priest of the Holy Catholic Church.
Many otherwise-faithful Catholics are under the mistaken idea that the Church’s prohibition against membership in the Masonic Lodge was lifted after the Second Vatican Council, and some of these people have actually joined Masonic associations in good faith and then presented themselves at the altar to receive Holy Communion. This misunderstanding may be rooted in the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law, in which specific references to Masonry were removed. However, the Church’s teaching has not changed, as evidenced by a Declaration from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in November 1983 which read, in part:
Therefore the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.
It is not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authorities to give a judgment on the nature of Masonic associations which would imply a derogation from what has been decided above, and this in line with the Declaration of this Sacred Congregation issued on 17 February 1981.
A 1985 reflection on this statement from the CDF written in L’Osservatore Romano said:
In any case, for a Catholic Christian, it is not possible to live his relation with God in a twofold mode, that is, dividing it into a supraconfessional humanitarian form and an interior Christian form. He cannot cultivate relations of two types with God, nor express his relation with the Creator through symbolic forms of two types. That would be something completely different from that collaboration, which to him is obvious, with all those who are committed to doing good, even if beginning from different principles. On the one hand, a Catholic Christian cannot at the same time share in the full communion of Christian brotherhood and, on the other, look upon his Christian brother, from the Masonic perspective, as an “outsider”.
Even when, as stated earlier, there were no explicit obligation to profess relativism as doctrine, nevertheless the relativizing force of such a brotherhood, by its very intrinsic logic, has the capacity to transform the structure of the act of faith in such a radical way as to become unacceptable to a Christian, “to whom his faith is dear” (Leo XIII).
The French Church and the Vatican have both said that the suspension of Father Paschal Vesin should be seen as “medicinal,” and it is designed to bring about his repentance and return to the practice of the faith and the legitimate exercise of his priestly ministry.