In using the term "canonical impediment," I suspect this is a trick question from a bored seminarian. But let's play it straight with the answer. In the 1917 Code of Canon Law it states: "Those who join a Masonic sect or other societies of the same sort, which plot against the Church or against legitimate civil authority, incur excommunication.” (See canon 2335)

Under this older Code, Masonic membership would definitely interfere with a priestly vocation since you'd be excommunicated from the church. However, a more recent version of Canon Law from 1983 supersedes that code. It states: "A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes office in such an association is to be punished with an interdict.” (canon 1374)

The new code doesn't mention Freemasonry. It's been concluded by some Catholics that belonging to the Masons is now acceptable. To clarify the matter, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger issued the “Declaration on Masonic Associations” shortly after the 1983 Code. The Declaration states that "the Church's negative judgment in regard to Masonic associations 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."

Pope John Paul II added that it was “not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authorities to give a judgment on the nature of Masonic associations” that would contradict the CDF. Some U.S. bishops question whether the CDF, which is not the Vatican’s juridical body, is competent to interpret canon law.

In the section of Canon Law dealing with impediments to ordination, (canons 1040-1043), only membership in forbidden organizations that can be shown to lead to apostasy garners a mention. Fair to say most U.S. bishops wouldn't ordain a man belonging to the Masons. If a bishop chose to do so, a succeeding bishop could place the priest under an interdict preventing him from functioning. Best advice for one so conflicted? Quit the Masons and pursue ordination.

Scriptures: Mark 3:23-25; Luke 9:23-25; Romans 14:19—15:6

Books: The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary - edited by James Coriden et. al. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1985)

The Theology of Priesthood - edited by Donald J. Goergen, OP, and Ann Garrido (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000)

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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