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 Australia
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:
- 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 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.