Catholicism and freemasonry

The question of whether Freemasonry is Anticlerical is the subject of debate. The Catholic Church has long been an outspoken critic of Freemasonry, and Catholic scholars have often accused the fraternity of anticlericalism.[1] The Catholic Church forbids its members to join any masonic society under pain of interdiction. Freemasons usually take a diametrically opposite view, stating that there is nothing in Freemasonry that is in any way contrary to Catholicism or any other religious faith.

Impartial scholars note that the situation is far more nuanced. Whether Freemasonry is Anticlerical often depends on how one defines Anticlericalism and what branch of Freemasonry one is talking about.

Anglo/American Freemasonry v. Continental Freemasonry

Starting in the late eighteenth century, and rapidly expanding in the nineteenth, Freemasonry became polarized over the issue of whether the discussion of religion and politics was appropriate in lodges. Those Grand Lodges that adhered to the Anglo-American form of Freemasonry (a significant majority world wide) maintained a strict rule that such discussion was banned.[2] Historian John Robinson notes this fact in reaching the conclusion that Freemasonry is not anticlerical.[3]

The Grand Lodges that followed the Continental form of Freemasonry, on the other hand, not only allowed political and religious discussions but often made official statements on political and religious topics. Some of these pronouncements can be seen as being Anticlerical. Such pronouncements, however, did not necessarily reflect the opinions of all Freemasons within the jurisdiction and often led to schisms and the formation of rival Grand Lodges that issued contrary opinions.

The fact that the Continental branch of Freemasonry was concentrated in traditionally Catholic countries, may account for the fact that the fraternity has been seen by Catholic critics as an outlet for anti-Catholic disaffection. Many particularly anti-clerical regimes in traditionally Catholic countries were perceived as having a strong Masonic element.[4]

Extent of the anticlericalism

According to historians Christopher Clark and Wolfram Kaiser, Freemasonry was not anticlerical from the outset. They state that this changed in the nineteenth century (in part because of measures by the Catholic Church) and that Freemasonry (mostly continental Freemasonry), developed an anticlerical outlook.[5] They note, however, that the influence of freemasonry should not be given too much weight; even in Italy it was eclipsed in influence by non-Masonic groups such as the Carbonari.[6] They also note that lodges did not hold one consistent political line, many being completely apolitical.[7]


The historian Stanley Payne believed that the influence of Freemasonry has often been overstated noting that Spanish Catholics had been accused of suffering from a "Masonic psychosis"[8] and notes that, numbering near 65,000 in 1890, “they sometimes figured prominently in Spanish liberalism and republicanism, but their direct collective influence on both politics and anticlericalism has doubtless been considerably exaggerated".[8]


According to historian Stanley G. Payne, members of the Masonic lodges played a major role in the rise of Portuguese liberalism and anticlericalism. However, he notes that the fraternity was not always united in opinion. Masons were found on both sides of the Gomes da Freire revolt in 1817. In 1820, however, Masons were devoted almost unanimously to the liberal cause in politics, and in the 1830s they had become the principal promoters of anticlericalism. After the triumph of constitutionalism, however, Portuguese Freemasonry split into more radical and more conservative groups, and by the 1860s it had ceased to play a catalytic role in politics. The upper middle class, established in power and wealth, were less attracted to it, and by the late nineteenth century Masons were drawn mainly from the lower middle class ranks of white-collar employees. Its place in radical politics at the turn of the century was taken over largely by secret republican radical political societies, especially the non-masonic Carbonária, and by 1912 the Masons had fewer than 3,000 members.[9]


The Grand Orient de France has been seen by many historians as being particularly hostile to Catholicism[10][11][12] During the Affaire Des Fiches (1904-1905) it was discovered that army promotions were partly determined by the Grand Orient of France's card index on public officials, detailing which were Catholic and who attended Mass.[13] French Masonic publications called for religious orders to be expelled from France.[14]

See also



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