Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum University, answered this question on February 6, 2007 via the Zenit News Agency:
Q: A member of the RCIA program was told by another member of the parish that if they were going to become Catholic they needed to terminate their involvement with the Masonic lodge before they could join. Is this still the case in the United States? — T.N., Howard City, MichiganMasons | Masonic Membership | Catholic Church | Freemasonry | BurningTaper.com | Burning Taper
A: This question is more canonical than liturgical. The Church's position with respect to membership of Masonic lodges, even though canon law no longer explicitly mentions the Masons, has not substantially changed.
The new code states in Canon 1374: "A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; however, a person who promotes or directs an association of this kind is to be punished with an interdict." An interdict is an ecclesiastical penalty that deprives the person of the right to celebrate or receive the sacraments but is less harsh than excommunication.
This text greatly simplified the former code which had specifically mentioned the Masons. This change led some Masons to think that the Church no longer banned Catholics from being Masons, since, among other things, in many countries membership at a lodge was merely social and had nothing to do with plotting against the Church.
In order to clarify the issue the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a declaration on Nov. 26, 1983, shortly before the present Code of Canon Law came into effect. This declaration, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger [editor's note: now Pope Benedict XVI], states:
"It has been asked whether there has been any change in the Church's decision in regard to Masonic associations since the new Code of Canon Law does not mention them expressly, unlike the previous Code.
"This Sacred Congregation is in a position to reply that this circumstance in due to an editorial criterion which was followed also in the case of other associations likewise unmentioned inasmuch as they are contained in wider categories.
"Therefore 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.
"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, and this in line with the Declaration of this Sacred Congregation issued on 17 February 1981 (cf. AAS 73 1981 pp. 240-241; English language edition of L'Osservatore Romano, 9 March 1981).
"In an audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II approved and ordered the publication of this Declaration which had been decided in an ordinary meeting of this Sacred Congregation."
The congregation's judgment, therefore, was not so much based on whether the Masons as such or any specific group of Masons effectively plot against the Church today. This does not deny that some Masonic groups have historically combated the Church nor that even today, in some countries or at certain levels, the lodge remains at the forefront of those who oppose the Church's freedom of action.
Rather, the Vatican congregation above all stressed the incompatibility of some Masonic principles with those of the Catholic Church.
This incompatibility resides in some aspects of Masonic ritual, but more importantly in elements regarding the question of truth.
In its effort to bring together people of different provenances, Masonry requires that its members adhere to a minimal belief in a supreme architect of the universe and leave aside all other pretensions of truth, even revealed truth.
It is thus basically a relativistic doctrine, and no Catholic, nor indeed any convinced Christian, may ever adhere to a group that would require him, even as a mere intellectual exercise, to renounce the affirmation of such truths as Christ's divinity and the Trinitarian nature of God.
Of course, for many people active in Masonic lodges, the conversations and activities are more social in nature and rarely veer toward the realm of philosophical speculation. A Catholic, however, cannot ignore the fundamental principles behind an organization, no matter how innocuous its activities appear to be.