Australian Bishops’ Conference Officially Sanctions Freemasonry

This article appeared in December of 2019 – there doesn’t seem to have been any action taken by the Australian Bishops. What does that tell us?

Anonymous Catholic

From Family Life International:

Back in July, I wrote an article for The Remnant on a Queensland priest who publicly admits to having been a Freemason for more than a decade. While that is shocking enough, the most disturbing part of this story was that the priest claims to have a letter from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, giving permission for Catholics to become Masons. This permission was said to be based on the erroneous conclusion that ‘Australian’ Freemasonry is somehow different from any other form of Freemasonry.

As my previous article explained, the communications officer for the ACBC Secretariat  responded to my query with this statement:

“The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has exchanged private correspondence with officials from the Freemasons in recent years. Fr. Costigan’s writings do not accurately reflect the contents of that private correspondence nor any policy of the Conference.”

As will become clear, that statement might be technically true, but in no way explains the reality of the correspondence’s contents.

Hiding in plain sight

Multiple phone calls and emails to Archdioceses over several months rendered little fruit – only independent Catholic news sites and the Freemasons themselves seemed interested in Fr. Costigan’s conflicting loyalties. However, a careless social media post led to the discovery of the letter online, along with the letter from the Freemasons which originally sparked the ACBC’s response.

That letter was written by the former Grand Master of Northern Territory/South Australia, Stephen Michalak to Fr. Stephen Hackett, the ACBC Secretary, in 2016. In it, Mr. Michalak sought to clarify the Catholic Church’s position on its members becoming Freemasons.

Mr. Michalak is himself a Catholic, as were the Grand Masters of Queensland and Western Australia at that time.  In his letter, Mr. Michalak expounds on the supposed virtues of Masonry, while also admitting that the Church maintains its ban on Catholics being members. He speaks of his ‘long-standing friendship’ with a former Vicar-General of Adelaide, who advised him to contact then Vicar-General, Fr. Philip Marshall.

Fr. Marshall advised him to obtain the agreement of all of the Australian Grand Masters before contacting the Church, and suggested to Michalak that he then write to the ACBC ‘seeking pastoral resolution to the present challenges as well as outlining a pathway for Catholics who are Freemasons to full participation in the sacramental life of the Church.’

Mr Michalak concluded his letter by stating his hope that Roman Catholic Freemasons will eventually be allowed to receive the sacraments without being in a state of sin.

Fr. Hackett’s response

The response from Fr Hackett is dated July 2017, exactly one year after Mr Michalak sent his enquiry. This time was needed, he writes, in order to consult with the Bishops Commission for Canon Law, the Bishops Commission for Doctrine and Morals and the Bishops Conference itself.

Without any explanation other than an acknowledgement of Mr Michalak’s glowing report of Masonry, Fr. Hackett expresses his satisfaction that ‘Australian’ Freemasonry’ is not hostile to Catholicism. However, if this is truly the case, then it is reasonable to ask why this assessment has never been made public or revealed to be the official stance of the ACBC – even though, as Fr. Hackett alleges below, the Bishops Conference came to that conclusion in 1984. Surely, if a thorough investigation involving multiple apparatus of the ACBC and which took a year to complete had actually taken place, then it would behove the Secretary to publicly disclose this fact, and to allow the mysterious 1984 directive to be promulgated.

But there is more.

Fr. Hackett goes on to imagine the Church and the Masons working in a ‘spirit of harmony’ which would be ‘informed by circumstance, need and opportunity.’ He then makes the following alarming and frankly, false, statement:

“Perhaps most importantly for Catholic members of Freemasonry, 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. The involvement of Catholics in Freemasonry is foremost a moral matter which should normally be dealt with personally and pastorally in the local parish. I suggest that where a local pastoral response is not consistent with this expectation and liturgical-sacramental participation is made difficult or refused, that this might be referred to the local vicar general or to me.

I will raise issue of Catholics and Freemasonry during the annual meeting of Archdiocesan Vicars General, next due to be held in May 2018, to ensure that they are familiar with the preferred approach of the Bishops Conference.”

Fr Hackett’s excuse – that the secrecy is necessary in case there are some Australian lodges which are hostile to the Church – does not hold water, since he provides no criteria by which to judge ‘hostility’ and given that the Church condemns all Masonry in any case.

“No local authority has the competence to derogate from these judgements”

In case there is any doubt as to the Church’s constant teaching on Freemasonry’s incompatibility with the Faith, a summary of the most recent Vatican directive on Masonry is given below. This was the 1983 Directive on Masonic Associations from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and it was issued after the Code of Canon Law was changed in that same year, omitting the charge that Catholic Freemasons incur ex-communication. That revision had caused confusion amongst Catholics who in some cases assumed that there was no longer any penalty attached to their holding Masonic membership. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger felt compelled to issue the Directive in order to dispel confusion about Freemasonry. According to the 1983 Directive:

1.    The Church’s negative judgment on Masonry remains unchanged, because the Masonic principles are irreconcilable with the Church’s teaching.

2.    Catholics who join the Masons are in the state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.

3.    No local ecclesiastical authority has the competence to derogate from these judgments of the Sacred Congregation.”

That last point, regarding a prohibition on local authorities to promulgate an alternative teaching on Masonry is very pertinent in this case. For in suggesting that the Australian Bishops Conference can administer a bespoke interpretation of the relationship between Masonry and the Church, Fr. Hackett is in clear violation of the CDF’s directive. Obviously, he has also violated the first point by suggesting that so-called ‘Australian Freemasonry’ can be reconciled with the Church, and the second by failing to advise Catholics who remain Masons that they are not to receive Holy Communion.

Fr. Hackett’s claim that the ACBC directive of 1984 approved Freemasonry after the CDF’s definitive proclamation hints at an arrogance that defies belief.

Freemasonry is an “instrument of Satan”

Fr. Hackett’s assessment of Freemasonry, in addition to violating the 1983 Directive, stands in contrast with that of the many popes, bishops and laymen who have denounced Masonry since its inception four hundred years ago. In fact, there have been more than twenty encyclicals and papal bulls written on this matter by the popes alone.

The most famous of these, Humanum Genus, was written by Pope St. Leo XIII in 1884. In it, Pope Leo wrote,

“We wish it to be your rule first of all to tear away the mask from Freemasonry, and to let it be seen as it really is; and by sermons and pastoral letters to instruct the people as to the artifices used by societies of this kind in seducing men and enticing them into its ranks, and as to the depravity of their opinions and the wickedness of their acts.

As our predecessors have many times repeated, let no man think he may for any reason whatsoever join the Masonic sect, if he values his Catholic name and his eternal salvation as he ought to value them.”

In 1985, American Cardinal Law specifically debunked the idea that Masonry could be acceptable even if ostensibly not hostile to the faith, when he said: “And even though Masonic organizations may not in particular cases plot against the faith, it would still be wrong to join them because their basic principles are irreconcilable with those of the Catholic faith.”

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, in a December 2016 talk, referred to Freemasonry as the ‘Instrument of Satan,’ reminding Catholics that St Maximilian Kolbe founded his Knighthood of the Immaculata in direct response to threats from the Italian Freemasons of his day. As Bishop Schneider pointed out, reiterating the Church’s constant teaching, Freemasonry’’s goal is “to eliminate the entire doctrine of God, especially Catholic doctrine.”

Former 32nd degree Mason, layman John Salza, is just as blunt. He states that “Freemasonry is a religion that is opposed to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. That’s the bottom line.”

The Bishops respond

FLI contacted Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, Vice-President of the ACBC and Archbishop Julian Porteous for a response to our queries:

Archbishop Fisher stated via his private secretary that:

 … he has no recollection of this being discussed at the Bishops Conference. The 1983 Declaration on Masonic Associations from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear that Catholics who enrol in Masonic activities are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion. Furthermore, the Declaration expressly says it is not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authorities to derogate from this.

Further, the Archbishop said that it is his understanding that while penalties have varied, the Church has never been in favour of Catholics joining any secret organisations with quasi-religious doctrines.”

Additionally, Archbishop Fisher’s secretary drew our attention to the 1937 Plenary Council for Australia which passed a decree that prohibited Catholics becoming members of the Freemasons.

Paul Hanrahan spoke to Archbishop Julian Porteous, FLI’s Patron, who would like to withhold any comment until he has had a reply to his letter to Father Stephen Hackett MSC, asking him for clarification, especially where he received the information he has quoted. He does however endorse the comments of Archbishop Anthony Fisher.

“For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed”

It’s quite ironic that attempts by Catholic clergy to undermine the Church by embracing Freemasonry were undone by that ‘secret’ society advertising the fact on social media.

One day, as Jesus has promised us, all such secrets will be laid bare. But in the interim before that fearful day, there are sure to be many more betrayals revealed.

In light of the ACBC’s failure to adequately defend the Church’s teaching on a matter as fundamental as Catholicism’s incompatibility with Freemasonry, it should also be asked how any sane Catholic could expect the upcoming Plenary Council to fare any better.

Unless information to the contrary is made known by the bishops, Catholics could well conjecture that there exists in Australia a cabal of the clergy who are involved in Freemasonry, a number that is possibly not insignificant.  Knowing the sad state of the Catholic Education system, the widespread incidence of heterodoxy in Australian parishes, unfettered homo-clericalism and its attendant abuse scandal, as well as the continued failure of anyone in authority to censure Fr Costigan – a spiritual work of mercy that is the obligation of every bishop – those fears would not be unfounded.

The offices of the Bishops Commission for Canon Law, the Bishops Commission for Doctrine and Morals, the Vicars-General and the Bishops Conference itself might be a good place to start looking.

A Freemason Priest in Australia

It isn’t always left to the laity to guess that their clergy are masons – sometimes they just come out and tell us.

Anonymous Catholic

FROM The Remnant

A Catholic priest and Freemason claims that the Bishops Conference gave permission for Catholics to become ‘Australian Freemasons’ in 2016.

Fr. Kerry Costigan, now retired, of the Toowoomba Diocese in Queensland, contributed an article to the liberal publication, The Swag, in which he admitted that he has been a member of the Ashlar Lodge for over ten years. In the article, Freemasonry and the Catholic Church,  Fr. Costigan claimed that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference approved Catholics to become members of Australian Freemasonry in 2016. Fr. Costigan also wrote that he would like to see this new policy be made public. (The article is available here, behind a paywall.)

Fr Costigan’s Sketchy Synopsis

Fr. Costigan’s article begins by relating how parishioners at a Church where he was about to celebrate Mass left copies of Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical on Freemasonry in the building’s foyer. He then goes on to explain that, in his opinion, Australian Freemasonry differs from that found in Europe, since it is less sectarian and political.

That article states several times that Freemasonry is not a ‘single, united body’, but that each lodge has its own supreme authority and is the sole authority over its members.

Fr. Costigan points to a change in the character of Freemasonry after the Reformation, and suggests that its current form was established during the 18th century, when it lost its sectarian and political nature. He then cites an oft-repeated tale of a 19th century French journalist whom Masons claim is the source of their bad publicity. The journalist, Leo Taxil, earned notoriety for initially exposing Freemasonry as being satanic, but later recanted and claimed that the whole episode was aimed at mocking the Church. Clearly, this explanation doesn’t account for the fact that the first papal encyclical condemning Masonry was written 150 years before Taxil was on the scene.

At this point, the article becomes a bit sketchy: Fr. Costigan claims that in 1984, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference began an inquiry into Australian Freemasonry. Fr. Costigan opines that the reason no conclusion was published was due to there being no conflict between Catholicism and Masonry. He admits that this contradicts the Vatican’s policy on Freemasonry in other countries, but fails to mention that the prohibition does, in fact, apply world-wide.

The priest goes on to say that in 2016, Catholic Freemasons contacted the Australian bishops to clarify their status. At that time, Catholic men were said to be the Grand Masters of the Western Australian, Queensland and South Australian/Northern Territory lodges. The Grand Master of SA/NT prepared a submission for the bishops and asked for an authoritative judgement from them. The ACBC’s secretary is said to have then requested a combined submission from the Grand Masters of all Australian lodges, which was to include information on the basic ideals and principles of Australian Freemasonry.

According to Fr. Costigan, the Australian Catholic Bishops, via their secretary, then replied that “any Catholic man may join Freemasonry as it exists in Australia as long as his conscience agrees.” Fr Costigan added that “the reply also asked that membership in the Craft was to be carried out discreetly and without publicity,” and he surmised that this call for discretion was due to Masonry’s prohibition overseas.

Fr. Costigan ends his article by thanking the bishops for their pastoral approach, with the hope that their statement will soon be made public. (One wonders how an article appearing in a national newsletter could not be deemed public!)  He stated that Australian Catholic Masons ‘have been condemned unjustly by the blanket condemnation of all Freemasonry’ and concluded with the somewhat blasphemous “May God prosper in the Craft.”

‘A thousand’ Catholic Freemasons in Queensland alone

Fr. Costigan’s involvement with the Ashlar Lodge has been known for almost a decade. In 2010, Tim Pemble-Smith of The Lepanto League’s QLD branch asked the former Ordinary of the Toowoomba Diocese, Bishop William Morris, to clarify the priest’s relationship with the lodge, and also to clarify his own position on Freemasonry. Bishop Morris declined to answer Mr. Pemble-Smith directly, instead publishing a clarification in a diocesan publication which stated that ‘Fr Kerry has a relationship of friendship and Pastoral Care’ with the lodge.

There was no mention of Bishop Morris’s own stance on Freemasonry. Bishop Morris was subsequently dismissed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, for obstinately refusing to recant unrelated heretical positions. Most notably among these was his promulgation of the third Rite of Reconciliation and his unbridled support for women’s ordination. It is worth noting that Bishop Morris clung to his position for four years after first being requested to resign by the Vatican.

The Lepanto also reported in 2011 that a Catholic priest had held a public prayer service for members of the Oddfellows Lodge – a secret organisation affiliated with the Masons – and there were said to be ‘a thousand Catholics’ who were Freemasons in Queensland. A statement from then-Auxiliary Bishop of Brisbane, Michael Putney, was very telling. Bishop Putney said that ecumenism was breaking down many obstacles and “How the church responds to groups like the Masonic lodge is a different pastoral question which varies in different localities”.

Bishop Putney’s claim that the Church’s policy on Freemasonry can vary from place to place was in clear violation of the 1983 directive from the Confraternity for the Doctrine of the Faith, as stated below.

Hunter’s Hill Lodge in AustraliaJuly Hunters Hill Lodge

The CDF has spoken

There is no doubt that some confusion surrounding the status of Freemasonry arose when the Code of Canon Law was revised in 1983.

The new Code failed to reapply the penalty of excommunication for Catholics who held Masonic membership. This led some bishops to wrongly conclude that Freemason’s basic tenets vary from place to place and so its practise in a particular locale may not necessarily pose a danger to a Catholic’s salvation.

However, the German bishops who were in favour of retaining the penalty of excommunication concluded that Freemasonry was ‘an extraordinary danger’ for the Church. Similarly, Cardinal Pietro Palazzini spoke of the need to maintain the penalty of excommunication, since Freemasonry “eliminates truth and revealed religion while welcoming Catholics as ‘useful idiots’.”

Interestingly, Justice Michael Kirby, then deputy commissioner of the Law Reform Commission and former High Court Justice, was, in 1983, full of hope that the Vatican’s review of Catholics and Masonic membership would end the prohibition. In an address to the Lodge University of Sydney, Mr. Kirby predicted that ‘Catholics will soon be able to become Freemasons without fear of excommunication.’

Although the new code of Canon Law is less explicit than its predecessor, Quaesitum es – the CDF’s most recent statement on Masonry – is as clear as it is definitive:

  1. The Church’s negative judgment on Masonry remains unchanged, because the Masonic principles are irreconcilable with the Church’s teaching.
  2. Catholics who join the Masons are in the state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.
  3. No local ecclesiastical authority has competence to derogate from these judgments of the Sacred Congregation.” (Emphasis added.)

Australian Freemasonry: no different from any other form

A spokesman from Freemasons Victoria assured this author that there is little difference between Australian Freemasonry and that which is practised in other jurisdictions. He explained that there are minor differences in dress codes or salutes, for example, but that the basic tenets are the same, and that Australian Freemasonry is most closely aligned with that of Britain. He confirmed the only requirement for membership ‘in their faith’ is belief in ‘a deity’, but that members are free to choose who that deity is. He also confirmed that the name of Jesus Christ is not mentioned in any rituals, at least in the lower levels.

So even if one of Fr. Costigan’s claims is true –  that Australian Freemasonry has no political or sectarian nature – Masonry in this country retains the philosophical marks which render it incompatible with Catholicism.

This unchanging incompatibility has been reiterated time and again by the Church.

Pope St. Leo made it quite clear that ‘the Masonic federation is to be judged not so much by the things which it has done, or brought to completion, as by the sum of its pronounced opinions.’ (Humanum Genus §11.) This teaching was echoed in 1980 by the German bishops, who stated:

“The Freemasons have essentially not changed. Membership places the foundations of Christian existence into question. Detailed investigations of the Masonic rituals and fundamental ideas, and of their current, unchanged self-understanding make clear: Simultaneous membership in the Catholic Church and the Freemasons is incompatible.” (Heresy by Association, p 195.)

Cardinal Law, at the conclusion of an American Bishops’ enquiry into Freemasonry in 1985,  said, “And even though Masonic organizations may not in particular cases plot against the faith, it would still be wrong to join them because their basic principles are irreconcilable with those of the Catholic faith.”

Thus its practical activity is irrelevant; it is the philosophy which endangers a man’s soul.

The verse below comes from a hymn which was in use in Australian Masonic rituals  in 1951. It exemplifies Masonry’s incompatibility with Catholicism; namely that for the Freemason, salvation can be achieved without the Sacraments and without the redemptive action of Jesus Christ.

“Pure as that badge thy life may be, If by its teachings thou abide;

God’s Holy Face thine eyes shall see, If thou wilt make that badge thy guide.”

Freemasonry is always political

Deist philosophy aside, Fr. Costigan is wrong in writing that there is no political danger from Australian Freemasonry. Despite his opinions, Freemasonry’s practical activities have long been a source of contention. As early as 1876, Freemasonry was being blamed for being the driving force behind the secularisation of the education system in Australia. The Archbishop of Sydney at that time, Dr. Roger Vaughan, condemned Freemasonry for secretly driving the push for a government-controlled ‘Universal Secular, Free and Compulsory Education.’

Since then, there have been allegations of Masonic influence being brought to bear in courts of law, and university faculty appointments, at various times and places throughout the country’s history. Although not all the allegations have been proven, there remains little doubt that Freemasons have been able to exert an enormous influence in every facet of Australian society since the nation was founded. Famous Australian figures, such as Joseph Banks, Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the explorers Oxley, Hume and Leichhardt, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, Sir Donald Bradman, James Boag, and Sir Edward `Weary’ Dunlop were Freemasons. And many members of the Commonwealth Parliament have been Masons, including almost all conservative Prime Ministers up to 1972, from Edmund Barton to William McMahon.

Things are little different in the UK, where there have been historical calls for government enquiries into Masonry and contemporary allegations of corruption involving Freemasons in the medical field and in the police force.

What does the Bishops Conference have to say?

Fr. Costigan’s claims have been refuted by a spokesman for the Australian Bishops. Gavin Abraham, communications officer for the ACBC, issued this response to enquiries about the article:

“The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has exchanged private correspondence with officials from the Freemasons in recent years. Fr. Costigan’s writings do not accurately reflect the contents of that private correspondence nor any policy of the Conference.”

What this statement does not mention is that it appears from Fr. Costigan’s article that the ‘officials from the Freemasons’, were those Catholic men who were Grand Masters of the states’ Grand Lodges at that time, asking for clarification about their status. Additionally, the statement completely fails to account for the priest’s version of things. Quoting Fr. Costigan’s article:

“… The reply given in writing on the official letterhead of the ACBC was that any Catholic man may join Freemasonry as exists in Australia as long as his conscience agrees. The reply also asked that membership for Catholics in the Craft was to be carried out discreetly and without publicity. No doubt, this was not publicly [sic] to go against the teaching of the Catholic Church about Freemasonry existing in other countries.

“This ruling of the ACBC would certainly be appreciated by Catholics who are members of the Craft. Gratitude is expressed to the Bishops of Australia for their open-handed, sensitive and pastoral approach to this matter.

“It is hoped that before long, this approval will be made public. At the moment, the many Catholic men who belong to the Craft here in Australia have been condemned unjustly by the blanket condemnation of all Freemasonry.”

Fr. Costigan is said to be recovering after surgery and unable to speak to members of the public. So does his article represent the warped reality of a sick, old man?  Or are there bishops in Australia who tolerate and even promote the idea that Freemasonry is somehow acceptable for Catholics?

This whole episode raises more questions than it answers. At a time when there are credible allegations of Freemasons infiltrating the Church at the highest levels, an Australian priest claims that he has been a Mason for a decade, apparently with the approval of his superiors. The bishops say that they haven’t violated the Church’s policy on Masonic membership, but Fr. Costigan claims he has an official statement on the official letterhead, to the contrary.

What of the ‘one thousand’ Catholics who are Freemasons in Queensland? What of the Grand Masters who were allegedly Catholic and thus should be barred from receiving Holy Communion? Where is the bishops’ vocal condemnation of Australian Freemasonry?

It is to be hoped that someone from within the ACBC will be concerned enough to take action on this serious matter.  Souls are at stake, and it is up to the laity to persevere in demanding answers from our bishops on this, and on all deviations from Catholic doctrine.