Philippines

Philippine bishops warn against 'Catholic-Freemasons'

Members of the Freemasons group allegedly participated in synodal consultations

UCA News reporter

Updated: March 30, 2023 06:43 PM GMT

Freemasons are seen during a gathering in the Bicol region of the Philippines on Jan. 16, 2023. (Photo: Roel Deuda)

Filipino bishops have clarified their position on a canonically banned fraternity called Freemasons after allegations surfaced that a growing number of its members participate in church activities.

The Commission on the Doctrine of Faith of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines issued a statement on March 24 to reiterate their stance on the Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines.  

The Philippine hierarchy, as early as 1954 up until the present has always defended the Catholic magisterial position on the unacceptability of Masonry, given its serious errors both in its philosophical tenets and practices, the commission said.

The bishops' clarification came against the background of several Catholics questioning the alleged participation of Masons in diocesan and national synodal consultations held from April to September 2022 in the country.

The consultations are preparatory stages and part of Synod on Synodality to be held in Rome in October 2024. Pope Francis launched the global exercise in October 2021, asking Catholics in every diocese to participate actively so the Church could listen to the realities of its members.

In Catholic-majority Philippines, Church members claimed they assumed the church's position on Freemasons changed when they found some participated in the synod process.

Nothing has changed

We thought the Catholic Church's teachings have changed. Since several participants in the synod were Freemasons, we thought the Church has relaxed the rules on its membership and its participation in activities of the Catholic Church, Quezon City parishioner Gloria Buencamino, 43, told UCA News on March 26.

Buencamino claimed some extraordinary ministers who helped the priest distribute communion during Mass in their parish were also Freemasons.

In our parish alone, we have two of them and they were delegates to the Synod on Synodality. They are good and pious Catholics. Personally, I was surprised to see the CBCP has released the pastoral guidelines, Buencamino added.

But the bishops' commission clarified that nothing has changed and asserted that those joining  Masonry will incur canonical penalties.

Yet, given the sensitivity and delicateness of the issue in the Philippine setting, it has also shown 'openness,' in the exercise of pastoral circumspection, towards Catholics who may have unwittingly in good faith sought membership in Masonic associations with the best of intentions, said the commission chairman, Bishop Jose R. Rojas of Libmanan.

Church ban continues

However, the Catholic Church's position remains unchanged on masonic associations whose beliefs, rituals, and customs were irreconcilable to the doctrine of the Church.

The bishops' letter quoted a 1983 declaration from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that prohibited Catholics from joining the fraternity and said those continuing in it are in grave sin.

The bishops also explained that the 1983 Code of Cannon Law does not explicitly prohibit Catholics' membership in the Masonic association, unlike the 1917 canon law. 

However, the new code omitting the name Masonic association does not mean its acceptance, they said.

The omission was simply meant to extend the application of the prohibition of membership to other associations, whose principles — like those of masonic associations — are perceived to be irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church, the statement said quoting the Vatican declaration. 

The bishops however did not explain the presence of members of Masonic associations at synod proceedings in dioceses and parishes.

Masons can be Catholic?

But pastoral priorities need to show openness to the situation of individual Catholics on a case-to-case basis to determine if such Catholics deserve a less stringent approach [as otherwise required by Canon Law], particularly if their joining the association is not necessarily tantamount to a formal renunciation of the Catholic faith, the statement said.

Filipino Masons said they do not see anything wrong in being Catholic and Freemason.

US-based Filipino Catholic and Freemason Edward Cruz, 56, told UCA News that on All Souls Day, he attended Mass in Catholic Church and Masonic Lodge in South San Francisco.

He also claimed about 20 years ago Father William Justice, (who would later become Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco) commissioned him to distribute Eucharist during the Mass, which he still does.

Freemasonry makes good Catholic men better, said Cruz who moved to the US in 1999.

Freemason and lawyer Frank Muñez, 61, from Quezon City of Manila said the Masonic association is like a fraternity that can help establish business connections and to build a wider clientele.

It's a fraternity. What's wrong with it? We are not denying God's love. In fact, we encourage our members to be men of faith and good countrymen. During calamities, we help our poor brothers and sisters, Muñez told UCA News.

Muñez also cited his brethren physician Greg Macasaet who died of Covid-19 after serving several Covid patients.

Yes, he offered his life for a greater cause. And you know what was his first request when his fellow doctors announced he had Covid, he looked for a priest for confession, Muñez added.

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