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VIENNA (ChurchMilitant.com) - Eight popes over 200 years in a barrage of 20 legal interdicts have condemned Freemasonry, pronouncing automatic excommunication against any Catholic who becomes a member of a masonic lodge.
Now, a new book by an official of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is claiming that a practicing Catholic can simultaneously be a Freemason and that the penalty of excommunication may "certainly not" be applied to "Catholic Freemasons."
Father Michael Heinrich Weninger launched his 500-page study Loge und Altar: Über die Aussöhnung von Katholischer Kirche und regulärer Freimaurerei (Lodge and Altar: On the Reconciliation of the Catholic Church and Regular Freemasonry) last Wednesday in Vienna, accompanied by Austrian Lodge Grand Master Georg Semler on the dais.
Semler identifies as a "committed Catholic," while Weninger, ordained by Cdl. Christoph Schönborn in 2011, was outed as a Freemason when celebrating Mass at the consecration of the new lodge of Mark Master Masons No. 1954 in 2014.
A masonic communiqué informed its members that "Bro. Rev. Michael was installed and invested as Chaplain in each of the three lodges," adding that Weninger was "well qualified since he lives in the Vatican as a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue but works in Rome."
Weninger says he has presented copies of his book to Pope Francis, to Schönborn and to high-ranking officials in the Roman Curia. Schönborn responded with "Nothing but goodwill," he bragged.
However, at a presser in 2013, Pope Francis lashed out at "a lobby of masons" while on a 2015 visit to Turin, the pontiff spoke of "worst conditions" for young people at the end of the 19th century when "Freemasonry was in full swing ... there were priest haters, there were also Satanists." In 2017, the pontiff compelled Cdl. Burke to purge Freemasons from the Knights of Malta.
At the book launch, Weninger narrated his experience of being repeatedly approached by Catholic Freemasons during his trips around the world: "They described to me their troubles of conscience and mental problems, whether they were actually excommunicated because of their membership [in the lodge]."
"And I told them with a clear conscience that they weren't," he stressed, claiming that around two million Catholics are Freemasons.
The former diplomat, now heading the Vatican's dialogue with Islam, argues that previous popes' condemnations of Freemasonry must be understood as "ultimately more politically than theologically motivated."
"One has to differentiate between different types of Freemasons," Weninger contends. He exonerates lodges under the umbrella of the Grand Lodge of England, which also includes the Grand Lodge of Austria, as "regular Freemasons" who he says are neither political nor anti-Catholic.
Weninger admits that Italian and French Freemasons were often politically or even militarily combative against the Church but dismisses them as "pseudo-Freemasons." This does not apply at all to English-oriented Freemasonry, which is the template for most lodges in the world, he explains, noting that "regular Freemasonry" is "politically reserved" and "keeps tolerance high and also encourages its members to a certain spirituality that is absolutely compatible with Christianity."
"For too long," Weninger argues, "the Church did not differentiate between these 'regular' Freemasons and others, with sometimes sectarian or anti-Church tendencies."
Weninger also claims the confusion over whether Catholic Freemasons are excommunicated stems from a contradiction between the 1983 Code of Canon Law — which, he contends, removed the condemnation of Freemasonry contained in the 1917 code — and a damning 1983 declaration from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
Though the CDF declaration is not binding under Canon Law, it does have a certain theological weight, Weninger admits.
In the 1983 Declaration on Masonic Association, personally authorized by Pope John Paul II, then-Cdl. Ratzinger unambiguously declared:
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.
Against Weninger's attempt to distinguish between "regular" and "irregular" Freemasons, the declaration also made explicit that "it is not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authorities to give a judgment on the nature of Masonic associations which would imply a derogation from what has been decided above."
Weninger also insists that the CDF condemnation of Freemasonry does not undo the dialogue begun in the late 1960s by the then archbishop of Vienna and president of the Secretariat for Non-Believers, Cdl. Franz König, who held talks with Austrian, German and Swiss Freemasons in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965).
That dialogue culminated in the Lichtenau Declaration (1970), explains Weninger, which affirmed that Masonry was not a threat to the Church and recommended that all Church sanctions against Masons be lifted.
However, canonist Edward F. Condon in his 2015 doctoral dissertation from the School of Canon Law of the Catholic University of America, observes that "the perceived benignity of the Lodge is immaterial since it is ... the underlying philosophy of Masonry which renders membership toxic to the Faith."
Condon expresses shock at "the presumption of the authors" of the Lichtenau Declaration, which, he points out "did not address the central objection of the Church, through the centuries, to Masonry — that its very nature promoted religious indifferentism and a relativistic and secondary understanding of membership in the Church."
At the book launch, Austrian Grand Master Semler reiterated the Lichtenau Declaration point that Freemasonry is not a religion and has love of neighbor in common with the Church.
But according to Condon, "even the basic initiation rituals of Blue Lodge Masonry, common to every rite and country, involve an at least tacit renunciation of the efficacy of one's baptism through the assertion that one has been 'long walking in darkness' and now 'seeks the light only Masonry can bring.'"
The higher degrees of the Scottish Rite prevalent in American and Britain, "areas of supposedly benign Masonry, involve explicit denunciations of the pope and the Catholic Church," Condon reveals, elaborating:
Should the [Mason] Apprentice continue, as is expected, to the rank of Master Mason, he will still further learn, and himself affirm, that the Catholic Church is an agent of spiritual and temporal tyranny which he should fight against and consider himself to be acting as God's agent in opposing. He will undergo another blindfolded and half-naked ritual in which he will simulate his own death and resurrection, and he will be taught that it is Masonry which will teach him to interpret Sacred Scripture instead of the Church.
"There is solid canonical argumentation for considering the Masonic oath to constitute a graver offense than an explicit act of heresy," states Condon in Heresy by Association: The Canonical Prohibition of Freemasonry in History and in the Current Law.
Semler is nonetheless hoping for an official gesture of reconciliation towards the Freemasons on the part of the Vatican, which could include a meeting between Grand Masters and Pope Francis, or even between Grand Masters and the CDF prefect.
Weninger's book is based on his doctoral dissertation Über die Aussöhnung von Katholischer Kirche und regulärer Freimaurerei ("On the Reconciliation of the Catholic Church and Regular Freemasonry") completed at the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University in 2019.
Church Militant produced a video and provided additional resources explaining why the Church has consistently condemned Freemasonry more than any other error in its history because it promotes indifferentism, naturalism, communism and other dangerous philosophies.