Rorate Caeli

"DEAR BROTHER MASONS" - Full Article on Catholic-Masonic Dialogue by Cardinal Ravasi -- And, exclusive, an answer by Card. Ravasi

A few days ago, we published a few excerpts of the article published by Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, in the Italian paper Il Sole 24 Ore last Sunday, February 14, 2016, calling for dialogue with Freemasons. We now have the full text of the article -- followed by a response given by the Cardinal to a reader who asked him for a clarification.


Over and above our different identities, there is no lack of common values: a sense of community, charitable works and the fight against materialism

by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi

I read some time ago in an American magazine that the international bibliography on Freemasonry exceeds more than a 100,000 articles. Certainly contributing to this interest is its aura of secrecy and mystery, more or less with good reason, its different “obediences” and Masonic “rites” shrouded in a sort of murkiness, not to mention its origins, which, according to the English historian Frances Yates, “are one of the most discussed and questionable problems in the entire field of historical research” (curiously the scholar’s study was dedicated to the Rosicrucian Enlightment, translated by Einaudi in 1976).

We obviously do not want to go into this archipelago of “lodges” “orients” “arts” “affiliations” and denominations of which history has often weaved – for better or for worse – into the politics of many nations (for example, I’m thinking here of Uruguay where I took part recently in various dialogues with proponents of traditional Masonic culture and society), just as it is not possible to trace the lines of demarcation between the authentic, the false, the degenerate, or para-masonry and the various esoteric or theosophical circles.

It is also arduous to illustrate a map of the ideology which holds such a fragmentary universe, which is why we can speak of a horizon and a method more than a codified doctrinal system. Inside this fluid setting some rather distinct crossroads meet, such as an anthropology based on freedom of conscience, intellect and equal rights, in addition to a deism that acknowledges the existence of God, allowing however, for flexible definitions on His identity. Anthropocentrism and spiritualism, are, therefore, two somewhat excavated paths within a very changeable and flexible map that we are not able to outline in any precise way.

We are content, though, to indicate an interesting little volume which has a clearly distinct aim: that of defining the relationship between Freemasonry and the Catholic Church. Let’s be clear immediately though: it is not a historical analysis of this relationship, neither does it treat of possible contaminations between the two subjects. In fact, it is evident that Masonry has assumed Christian models – even liturgical ones. We must not forget, for instance, that in the 17th century many English lodges recruited members and maestros among the Anglican clergy and it is a fact that one of the first and fundamental Masonic “constitutions” was drawn up by the Presbyterian pastor, James Anderson who died in 1739. In it, among other things, it was affirmed, that an adherent ”will never be a stupid atheist nor an irreligious libertine” even if the creed proposed was, in the end, the vaguest possible, “that of a religion which all men agree on”.

Now, the vacillations of contacts between the Church and Freemasonry have had many varied movements, reaching even manifest hostility, marked by anticlericalism on the one side and excommunication on the other. Indeed, on April 28th 1738, Pope Clement XII, the Florentine Lorenzo Corsini, promulgated the first explicit document on Freemasonry, the Apostolic Letter In eminenti apostulatus specula, in which he declared: “that these same Societies, Companies, Assemblies, Meetings, Congregations, or Conventicles of Liberi Muratori or Francs Massons, or whatever other name they may go by, are to be condemned and prohibited”. Condemnations reiterated by subsequent pontiffs, from Benedict XIV to Pius IX and Leo XIII, affirmed the incompatibility between membership in the Catholic Church and Masonic obedience. Concise was the 1917 code of Canon Law in which canon 2335 reads: “Those who join a Masonic sect or other societies of the same sort, which plot against the Church or against legitimate civil authority, incur ipso facto an excommunication simply reserved to the Holy See.”

The new Code of 1983 tempered the formula, avoiding explicit reference to Freemasonry, conserving the substance of the punishment even if destined in the most generic sense “a person who joins an association which plots against the Church” (canon 1374). However the most articulated Church document on the irreconcilability between adhesion to the Catholic Church and Freemasonry is the Declaratio de associationibus massonicis issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Faith on November 26th 1983, signed by the then Prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. It specified precisely the value of the new Code of Canon Law, reaffirming: “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 small volume to which we now return, is interesting since it attaches – along with an Introduction by the present Prefect for the Congregation, Cardinal Gerhard Muller - also two documents from two local Episcopates, the German Episcopal Conference (1980) and the Philippine one (2003). They are significant texts as they address the theoretical and practical reasons for the irreconcilability of masonry and Catholicism as concepts of truth, religion, God, man and the world, spirituality, ethics, rituality and tolerance. It is significant particularly for the method adopted by the Philippine Bishops, who articulate their discourse along three trajectories: the historical, the more explicitly doctrinal and the pastoral. All is examined along the lines of the question-answer type of catechesis. There are 47 question-answers and they go into details, such as the initiation ceremony, symbols, the use of the Bible, the relationship with other religions, the oath of brotherhood, the various levels of the hierarchy and so on. 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 which had already listed the specific areas for discussion, such as the communitarian dimension, works of charity, the fight against materialism, human dignity and reciprocal knowledge.

Further, we need to overcome 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 these differences still remain in a clearly distinct way.

[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]


After being contacted by a Rorate reader, Cardinal Ravasi sent the reader the following message:

Dear [X],

You are probably reacting mainly to the article’s title, which was added by the newspaper’s staff.

My article actually presented the 1983 document from the Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, signed by cardinal Ratzinger, and also the documents on the Masons from the German and Philippine Episcopal Conferences, with clear doctrinal precision as well as practical indications.

Sincere regards,
Gianfranco Card Ravasi