2003-01-31 00:00:00

Filipino Catholics who remain Freemasons even after having been warned by their bishops face excommunication, according to a declaration of the Catholics Bishops´ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Eighty-eight bishops approved the final draft of "Joint Declaration of the CBCP on Sanctions for Catholics Who Join Freemasonry" at their Jan. 27 plenary assembly in downtown Manila. They also agreed to append their document to a primer on Freemasonry that they plan to circulate in early February.

After the assembly, Opus Dei Father Luis Supan, executive secretary of the bishops´ Commission on the Doctrine of the Faith, told UCA News that a primer now being printed will be disseminated by diocesan bishops. Catholics who continue to be members of Masonic lodges despite this information will face sanction, Father Supan also noted.

However, Bishop Martin Jumoad of Isabela and other bishops have told UCA News that many Catholics whom they know do not view their membership in Masonic associations as contrary to their faith.

In between plenary sessions, Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi of Caceres told UCA News he feels compelled to explain the decree to many friends who are Masons. The Dominican prelate said that close friendship with "good Masons" is primarily why many bishops found it difficult at the assembly to vote "the way they knew they should."

Masonry as a movement of men has obscure roots that some historians trace to stonemason guilds in the Europe of the Middle Ages.

Father Supan says the number of Masons in the Philippines is growing. The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines has 15,398 members, the lodge´s office staff told UCA News Jan. 30.

Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, the CBCP president, told UCA News in December that three former Masons who addressed a CBCP plenary assembly in the late 1990s reported that the movement´s leaders are "dangerous" in their attacks and plans against the Church. The Oblate archbishop added that the new declaration on the Masons is important today "especially as we see the recruitment of officers in the police and military" by their associations.

Bishop Ramon Arguelles of the Military Ordinariate cited Senator Juan Flavier, secretary of health 1992-1994, among government officials who are Freemasons. The bishop noted that there were population control policies advocating artificial contraception during Flavier´s term. According to Bishop Arguelles, those policies were "the result of his Freemasonic connection."

Hazel Salvador, office staff of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in the Philippines, denied that the senator is a member of the organization, but Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan pointed out that secrecy is part of the association.

Bishop Arguelles added that Freemason moves are always indirect and that it is the group´s policy to oppose religious instruction in schools. He said Freemasons are "very active" in the military and "many good Catholics" join because of business connections and the fraternal relations, without knowing "the deeper implications thereof." He added that the Freemasons are "after the powerful, influential and future leaders."

In 1983, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, affirmed that the principles of Masonic associations are irreconcilable with Church doctrine and that Catholics in such associations are in a state of grave sin. Archbishop Pedro Dean of Palo, chairman of the CBCP Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith, explained that Masons believe that God has not revealed himself in history.

Masonic literature says faith is the center of human life, but no one has a right to tell another what to believe. It teaches that the creator God did not reveal himself in Jesus, whom Freemasons consider a good man but not divine.

Archbishop Legaspi observed that the Philippine bishops issued guidelines on Masons in 1990, but those guidelines were to be implemented by individual bishops and some chose not to do so.

In their new declaration, the bishops decreed that any Catholic who is a "convinced member of Freemasonry, notoriously adhering to the Masonic vision" be already considered excommunicated according to Canon 1364 of Church law. Such a person, according to Canon 1331, is forbidden to celebrate or receive the sacraments and to hold any Church office, ministry or governing function.

"Further, all the individual bishops, in virtue of Canon 455, decided to strictly disallow in their respective jurisdictions these Masons from being witnesses in marriage," says the declaration. "These sanctions clearly manifest that the incompatibility between Christianity and the principles of Freemasonry touches on important matters of Christian life," it also explains.

The declaration was inspired by "the spirit of the Good Shepherd," the bishops said, assuring Catholics the move is an expression of "our solicitude for their spiritual welfare." Stressing the Church´s guidelines should not be watered down, they also said Catholics who became Masons are Church members who deserve the prayers and charity that Christians owe to one another. "The personal and individual situation of a Catholic Mason should be considered so that gradually he may freely follow these guidelines," the statement reads.

A Catholic publicly known to be an active official or member of any Masonic association is expected to discontinue such membership after being warned with an interdict or else be refused the Sacraments and funeral rites, "unless some signs of repentance have been shown before death."

"Where Church funeral rites are allowed by the bishop, no Masonic services are allowed in the Church or cemetery immediately before or after the Church rites "in order to avoid public scandal," the bishops decreed.


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