A Catholic priest and Freemason claims that the Bishops Conference now allows Catholic men to become 'Australian' Freemasons.
Fr Kerry Costigan, now retired, of the Toowoomba Diocese in Queensland, contributed an article to the latest edition of The Swag, in which he admits that he has been a member of the Masons for over ten years. (The article is available here, behind a paywall.) The story, Freemasonry and the Catholic Church, describes Fr Costigan's experience in the Ashlar Lodge in Oakey. In the article, Fr Costigan claims that in 2016, in clear violation of the Vatican's directives, the ACBC approved Catholics to become members of Australian Freemasonry.
The priest's involvement with the Ashlar Lodge has been known for some time. In 2010, Tim Pemble-Smith of The Lepanto League's QLD branch asked the former local ordinary, Bishop Morris, to clarify Fr. Costigan'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 Emeritus Benedict XVI for obstinately refusing to recant unrelated heretical positions.)
The Lepanto also reported in 2011 that there were said to be 'a thousand Catholics' who were also Freemasons in Queensland, and that a Catholic priest had held a public prayer service for members of the Oddfellows Lodge (a secret organisation affiliated with the Masons). 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”.
Fr. Costigan's case can be contrasted with that of a French priest who was suspended from public ministry in 2013 for his involvement with Masonry. At the time, Fr Pascal Vesin claimed his membership in Masonry was “the expression of my absolute freedom of conscience within the Catholic institution.”
And it is apparently a similar appeal to individual conscience that the Australian Bishops have relied on for their abrogation.
Fr Costigan’s Sketchy Synopsis
Fr. Costigan 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. That alone should alert Catholics, for whom the supreme earthly authority is the papacy, united with the Magisterium.
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 press. The journalist, Leo Taxil, earned notoriety for initially exposing Freemasonry as being satanic, but later recanting and claiming 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. (See below for more on the prohibition.)
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 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 adds 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 states that Australian Catholic Masons 'have been condemned unjustly by the blanket condemnation of all Freemasonry' and concludes with the somewhat blasphemous "May God prosper in the Craft."
Pastoral approach. Individual conscience.
Where have we heard that before?
What the CDF has to say
If this is all true, then the statement by the ACBC is in direct violation of a decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in opposition to the Church’s constant teaching since the first papal encyclical condemning Freemasonry was written by Pope Clement in 1738.
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 to some bishops wrongly concluding 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, in 1983, Justice Michael Kirby, then deputy commissioner of the Law Reform Commission and former High Court Justice, was full of hope that the Vatican's review of the status of Catholics and Masonry would end the prohibition. In an address to the Lodge University of Sydney, Mr. Kirby wrongly 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 est, the CDF's most recent statement on Masonry, is as clear as it is definitive:
- The Church's negative judgment on Masonry remains unchanged, because the Masonic principles are irreconcilable with the Church's teaching.
- Catholics who join the Masons are in the state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.
- 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 is acceptable because it has no political or sectarian nature - Masonry in this country retains the philosphical 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, 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."
Thus its practical activity is irrelevant; it is the philosophy which endangers a man's soul.The verse below comes from a hymn used during the First Degree ritual at a New South Wales lodge 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
Despite Fr. Costigan's 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, university faculty appointments, at various times and places throughout the country. 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 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?
At the time of writing, there had been no reply from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to an enquiry from this author. The ACBC's Director of Communications claimed to have no knowledge of the alleged abrogation being espoused by Fr. Costigan, nor of Fr. Costigan's openly professing to being a Freemason. A promise was made to followup, however.
Whatever the outcome, this is a serious matter for the Australian bishops. Either there is a priest in Queensland who should be barred from receiving Holy Communion and celebrating the Sacraments, or else the bishops have acted outside their authority and deviated from a decree by the CDF.
In these troubled times for the Church, a situation like this is the last thing Australian Catholics need. But, souls are at stake, and it is up to the laity to persevere in demanding answers from our bishops.