Thursday, April 23, 2020
Christ is Risen!
I recently received this letter from a reader:
Thank you so much for taking since the death of your father an increasingly bold and courageous stand on the distressing developments in the Church.
It seems that the visible Church is being hollowed out to a large degree at an accelerated pace, and the void strategically and deliberately filled with something else — and, whatever that something is, it is not the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith of the past 20 centuries.
I never thought I would live to see such days.
There are many recent signs that this ‘something else’ is connected to an underlying conviction of Freemasonry: that all religions are equal and that an unswerving devotion to Christ as the unique savior is an impediment to the ideal of human brotherhood.
Note these signs: In contrast to the case of that French priest who was defrocked in 2013 (in a process begun under Benedict) because he refused to resign from a Masonic lodge, in recent months we’ve seen the opposite. An Austrian Catholic priest and Vatican official in clericals can now openly hold a press conference explaining his Masonic membership and launch his new 500-page book proclaiming the compatibility between “regular” (Anglo-American-recognized) Masonry and the Church, and expect (and apparently receive) no punishment is striking, and quite a spectacle.
This of course comes on the heels of last year’s report that Freemasonry in Australia is or was being tolerated by the bishops’ conference, and indeed in official conversation with the Church there, with a Catholic priest still openly serving as a Masonic lodge chaplain in Queensland to boot (never mind the decades of overt, de facto toleration of Catholic Masons in Brazil, where even bishops hold Masses for them at which they wear their regalia).
What I think Inside the Vatican can offer, perhaps uniquely, is the ability to probe what is going on — also knowing, as I think we do, that Pope Francis has been no fan of Freemasonry since his days in Buenos Aires.
However, I sense Pope Francis’s objections have less to do with the Church’s official teaching than with his general antipathy to bourgeois deal-makers (unless, of course, they’re his own deal-makers).
My hypothesis? Given the ‘anything goes’ atmosphere in the Church at present, those who want to modify the Church’s stance on Freemasonry are testing the waters again, and evidently with some success. They probably hope to achieve de facto open tolerance of ‘regular’ Masonry in the short run and eventually of de jure official acceptance in the future.
I assume you’ve seen the all coverage I’m referring to, but no one and no Catholic publication has yet tied these strands together, or offered an explanation of what they might portend.
In my view, the only good things to come out of this present crisis are (1) the demise of an exaggerated papalism; (2) the revelations, during this pontificate, of the deepest (and longstanding) moral corruption within, now requiring a thorough purification.
That is not, however, to say that Our Lord necessarily wills this crisis, but only that the crisis has exposed at least two things needing thorough correction.
As to what happens next, only God knows…
Yours in Christ,
I recall a conversation that I had with then Cardinal Ratzinger a few years before he became pope. We were in his apartment, not far from St. Anne’s Gate. We were discussing his conflict with Cardinal Walter Kasper over the question of Universal Church and Particular Church which was much in the media at that time. I asked the Cardinal where the greatest danger to the authentic Catholic faith lies. “Is it in our own selves, our own sins and weaknesses. Is this what is the greatest danger to the Church or is it something else, some external enemy?”
He looked at me directly in the eyes and then after a moment’s pause, as if he were reflecting, he said: “It is Freemasonry.”
I never forgot that conversation as it was fixed point that brought to a conclusion a long series of questions that had concerned me up until that meeting and have concerned me since.
I would stress that the question concerns Christ. How are we to understand Christ and His centrality not only for our faith but for the very existence of our universe. If we believe in Christ we believe that through Him all things were made and therefore, that we ourselves were made through Him.
And, if we make this the central concept, or principle, of our understanding of reality, then reality cannot frighten us, for Christ Himself is the ultimate reality, and it is His face that we see on the other side of sorrow and death.
But if, out of a declared desire to reconcile differing groups of men, differing religions, Christ is removed from the central place — and this seems to be a central teaching, if not the central teaching, of Freemasonry, that Christ is not alone — then we are in that moment lost, subject to another “power” or “reality” who will not be as loving, as faithful, as committed to our freedom as souls having free will, as is Christ, the Lord.
This is the crux of the battle over these ideas.
At stake is the centrality of Christ.
Prompted by the letter above, and by these memories of my talk with the future Pope Benedict XVI, I decided to make a modest effort to gather some of the facts referenced in the letter, and to put together a little report on a matter that many regard as of marginal importance, but which is in fact of central importance for the Church, and for our freedom as sons and daughters of God. A more complete report will appear in the June-July issue of Inside the Vatican.—RM
“Lodge and Altar”: Is a New Campaign Underway to Make Masonic Membership Permissible for Catholics?
What a difference seven years makes: in 2013, a French priest was removed from office and stripped of his public ministry for refusing to resign from Freemasonry. By contrast, in February 2020 an Austrian priest and Vatican official quite open about his Masonic membership held a press conference to launch his new book about about the alleged compatibility of “regular” (British-recognized) Masonry and the Catholic faith, with little if any fear of punishment. This is one of many such recent, emerging efforts from Europe to Australia to “normalize” Masonic membership in the Church. What exactly is going on, and why is this happening now?Although Pope Francis is no admirer of the Freemasons, having encountered them as wheeler-dealers in his native Buenos Aires, it appears action is no longer being taken to discipline priests and prominent laymen who are known Masons, or bar them from Holy Communion.
This has clearly emboldened those working to gain de facto Vatican acceptance of Masonic membership and what they undoubtedly hope will be an eventual official change to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s 1983 Declaration on Masonic Associations.
There Ratzinger wrote: “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.”
However, it is true that there has been confusion since the new Code of Canon Law was promulgated in 1983, as it no longer mentions Masonry by name and dropped the previous penalty of excommunication for Masonic membership.
That is why then-CDF Prefect Cardinal Ratzinger issued a statement a day before the new Code came into force, explaining that Masonic membership remains forbidden and is a grave sin.
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The declaration specifically stated that local ecclesiastical authorities have no power to modify the Church’s centuries-old position, but as we’ll see below, the proponents of change are chipping away at all aspects of this landmark document.
The most spectacular, or if you prefer, brazen, recent event was the February 12, 2020, press conference alluded to above, which took place in Vienna and served as the launch for Fr. Michael Weniger’s new 500-page book Loge und Altar. (link)
Fr. Weniger, a former Austrian diplomat who was ordained in 2009 following the death of his wife, is a Mason and the chaplain of three Austrian Masonic lodges.
In 2012, Pope Benedict appointed him to the Pontifical Commission for Interreligious Dialogue.
On the podium with Fr. Weniger was Georg Semler, a self-described “committed Catholic” who is currently Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Austria.
Weniger noted that copies of his book were distributed to Pope Francis and to various cardinals, including Vienna’s archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, 75, the recipients of which he said responded “with benevolence, without exception.”
The book’s thesis is that there is no contradiction between being a Catholic and a member of a British-recognized “regular” Grand Lodge which requires a belief in God; focuses on basic ethical lessons grounded in natural law, offers conviviality and good fellowship, and does charitable work; and specifically forbids discussion of or involvement in politics and religion.
He concedes that the Church’s fears about the liberal, “adogmatic” Grand Orient-type of Masonry (deemed “irregular” and not genuine Masonry by London) are well-founded, as the notorious Grand Orient of France (France’s largest Masonic group) and similar bodies are overtly and aggressively political and anticlerical, with a membership largely made up of left-leaning atheists and agnostics.
Despite all this, Fr. Weniger remains a priest in good standing as far as anyone can ascertain.
In 2019, an equally surprising revelation came out of Australia, when a retired Queensland priest, Fr. Kerry Costigan, published an article in the magazine of the National Council of Priests of Australia, making similar arguments to those of Austria’s Fr. Weniger.
Fr. Costigan revealed that he, too, is a Mason and lodge chaplain and, more stunningly, that British-origin Australian Freemasonry has been in official private dialogue with the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC) for years.
He called on the ACBC to make its correspondence public, including a letter in which he said the bishops’ conference secretariat stated that “any Catholic man may join Freemasonry as exists in Australia.”
It came out that several years earlier, three of the Grand Masters of Australia’s five grand lodges were Roman Catholics who wished to regularize the status of Catholic Freemasons in the country.
The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference secretariat suggested that it would consider a joint proposal coming from all five Australian grand lodges.
The fruit of these efforts include a now-leaked exchange of letters, one of which was written by ACBC General Secretary Fr. Stephen Hackett, MSC, which lauded the “spirit of harmony” now existing between the Church and Australian Freemasonry, and stated that “no penalty attaches to Catholic membership.”
It also proposed that Masonic membership for Australian Catholics should treated as a personal, pastoral matter.
As with Fr. Weniger, it appears that Fr. Costigan is at little risk of losing his priestly faculties.
Again, how different things were only a decade ago when it was discovered, in 2010, that a French parish priest in the diocese of Annecy, Fr. Pascal Vesin, was a member of the Grand Orient of France.
In those last years of Pope Benedict’s papacy, Fr. Vesil’s bishop worked discreetly and gently to try to persuade him to resign, but in the end Vesil refused, and so was removed from office and suspended from public ministry in 2013, in the first months of Pope Francis’s pontificate.
Vesil, then in his early 40s, walked 900 kilometers from his home to the Vatican, a 39-day “pilgrimage” as he called it, hoping for an audience with Pope Francis or with one of his secretaries.
He never got one, and the French media quipped “Père ou Frère?” — “Father or Masonic brother?”
In recent years, the Church has also turned a blind eye to prominent Catholic laymen who are Freemasons.
A good example is President Trump’s Ambassador to China, the conservative former Republican Governor of Iowa and Catholic convert Terry Branstad, who was nominated for the role in 2016 and who now represents the United States in Beijing.
No one disputes Ambassador Branstad’s pro-life credentials or the honor bestowed on him by the Church in investing him as a Knight of the prestigious Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the two orders (the other being the Knights of Malta) specially and officially recognized by the Vatican.
The Holy Sepulchre order, whose mission is to support the threatened Christian presence in the Holy Land, is headed by Cardinal Fernando Filoni, 74, who was appointed to that role by Pope Francis in 2019.
Yet Branstad also remains a 32nd degree Mason and “Knight Commander of the Court of Honor” of the (US) Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, a Masonic body known until relatively recently for its rather open hostility to the Catholic Church.
This is apparently what de facto toleration of Catholic Masonic membership looks like today.
It’s also worth noting that while Masonry is in a steep decline in much of the English-speaking world, in parts of Europe and Latin America it continues to grow, have influence and advance the business and political careers of its initiates.
It is estimated that about one-third of the members of France’s Senate and National Assembly belong to one or another of the broad spectrum of Masonic “obediences.”
Catholics may recall the story of the courageous late French police colonel Arnaud Beltrame, who voluntarily exchanged his life for an Islamist prisoner in 2018, and who was still nominally a member of the Grand Lodge of France at the time of his execution but was increasingly drawn to his Catholic faith before his death. (Some have even called for his canonization, saying that what matters are his actions in his last hour, as a kind of martyr.)
Inside the Vatican‘s hallmark has always been fidelity to the Magisterium, and also a scrupulous attention to the facts.
Yes, we recognize that Freemasonry is a very heterogeneous phenomenon around the world, and even includes, in most of Scandinavia, a Christian-only form of Masonry that is a kind of Lutheran confraternity very different from lodges in other parts of the world.
At times, Catholics have indeed been too quick to give credence to questionable or unreliable anti-Masonic exposés, as with the fictitious (and ultimately embarrassing) Taxil ones of more than a century ago.
However, the Church’s official position on all forms of Masonry remains unchanged, though clearly it is being flouted more and more without consequence.
We should remember the Roman legal maxim that custom is the best interpreter of laws.
It seems those who wish to alter the Church’s position think they may have found a pathway to regularization, step by de facto step.
As it happens, some of them take inspiration from the Vatican’s signing, on February 4, 2019, of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, arguably and ironically a more “advanced and progressive” declaration than any ever issued by the fusty United Grand Lodge of England. —RM
What is the glory of God?
“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.
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