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CANBERRA, Australian Capital Territory (ChurchMilitant.com) - New evidence reveals Australia's bishops are permitting Catholics to become Freemasons.
A leading Freemason in Australia wrote a letter in July 2016 — only recently made public — to Fr. Stephen Hackett, General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), inquiring about the Church's stance on Masonry.
Stephen Michalak, Grand Master of South Australia and the Northern Territory (SA/NT), wrote in his letter, "Our Order in SA/NT has a significant number of Roman Catholics among its members. Regularly they communicate to me the variety of treatment by priests within the Adelaide archdiocese."
"There is no consistency," he complained. "One parish priest will welcome brethren to receive the Sacraments, while another will condemn the action."
In a response letter nearly a year later, Fr. Hackett replied, "I can reiterate a directive first made by the bishops conference in 1984 and affirmed this year. No penalty attaches to Catholic membership of the Masonic Order."
Father Hackett's reply contradicts a 1983 declaration from the Vatican, which sought to clarify that Freemasonry is still not permissible for Catholics, in the wake of a change to the wording of canon law on the subject.
"The Church's negative judgment in regard to Masonic associations remains unchanged," the Vatican declared, "since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church, and therefore membership in them remains forbidden."
The document further stated, "The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion."
In the 2016 letter, Michalak recalled how a young priest refused to shake his hand because of his Masonic ring and lapel pin, and admonished him not to receive the Blessed Sacrament.
"This position," Michalak argued, "seems totally at variance to my understanding of what Pope Francis is actively trying to promote — a spirit of understanding and reconciliation."
He proposed "dialogue" between the Church and Masonry, collaboration and "harmony" between the two institutions, and for Catholic Freemasons to receive the sacraments "without censure or pre-judgement of being in a state of grave sin."
In response, Fr. Hackett said that "dialogue" would be possible only with branches of Masonry that are not hostile to the Church, and some forms of collaboration might be possible on a case-by-case basis.
Father Hackett said his response was delayed because he "sought the advice of the Bishop Commission for Canon Law and the Bishops Commission for Doctrine and Morals," reviewed previous records on the Australian Church's dealings with the Freemasons and consulted experts from other bishops' conferences.
Church leaders have repeatedly condemned Masonry in the strongest terms. Pope Clement XII slammed Masonic organizations in a 1738 papal bull, declaring that they "are to be condemned and prohibited."
The 1917 Code of Canon Law punished membership in a Masonic lodge with automatic excommunication.
In recent years, some have argued for a more lenient approach, at least in some circumstances. They note that modern-day lodges are not as anti-clerical and anti-Catholic as lodges in times past. Many Masons today simply see themselves as members of a social club, with the main purpose being camaraderie or business networking.
But anti-Catholicism and anti-clericalism were only some of the reasons Church leaders condemned Masonry. Other problems with the secret society include:
The Catholic Encyclopedia states in its 1910 entry on Masonry: "The pope and the bishops, therefore, as faithful pastors of Christ's flock, cannot but condemn Freemasonry. They would betray, as Clement XII stated, their most sacred duties, if they did not oppose with all their power the insidious propagation and activity of such societies."