VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican has upheld a ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons, a centuries-old secret society that the Catholic Church has long viewed with hostility and which has an estimated global membership of up to six million.
“Active membership in Freemasonry by a faithful is prohibited, due to the irreconciliation between Catholic doctrine and Freemasonry,” the Vatican’s doctrinal office said in a letter published Wednesday by Vatican media.
The department, known as the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued its opinion, dated November 13 and endorsed by Pope Francis, in response to a Philippine bishop alarmed by the increase in the number of Freemasons in his country .
The same office said last week that transgender people can be baptized, serve as godparents and act as witnesses at Catholic weddings.
The letter on the Freemasons cited a 1983 statement, signed by the late Pope Benedict XVI, at the time the Vatican’s head of doctrine, which stated that Catholics “in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and cannot receive the Holy Communion”.
Masonic lodges are typically all-male societies, associated with arcane symbols and rituals. They have also sometimes been linked to conspiracy theories alleging undue influence in world affairs.
According to the United Grand Lodge of England, modern Freemasonry “is one of the oldest social and charitable organizations in the world”, rooted in the traditions of medieval stonemasons.
The group says it has 180,000 male members, with two parallel female lodges in England with another 5,000 members, and estimates the overall membership of Freemasonry to be around six million.
It lists Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip, former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, actor Peter Sellers, former England football manager Alf Ramsey and authors Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle as famous Freemasons of the past
(Reporting by Alvise Armellini Editing by Nick Macfie)
Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.