The Archbishop of
Melbourne takes umbrage
at his treatment in our February editorial.
Shifting the Blame
23rd February 2004
Mr Rod Pead
Dear Mr Pead
Let me state the following facts:
1. During 2003, without my knowledge or approval, the Knights of the Southern Cross and the Freemasons sought together to collect Tools and forward them as a co-operative venture to help the struggling people of East Timor.
2. In December 2003, Mrs Kirsty Sword Gusmao, the wife of the Prime Minister of East Timor visited Australia to thank the members of the two organisations. The function was held in the hall of the Masonic Centre, which is the largest hall in East Melbourne, and regularly used over thirty years by schools, colleges, both non-Catholics and Catholics for graduation ceremonies, concerts, etc. This was the total extent of the involvement
3. In January 2004, I wrote to Mr Colin Walsh, Chairman of the Knights of the Southern Cross in the following terms, clarifying the Church’s position on Freemasonry, and directing that the matter be brought to the notice of members of Knights of the Southern Cross:
Pope Clement XII condemned Freemasonry in 1738, and since then seven other popes have done the same. They declared the tenets of Freemasonry to be a threat to the true teachings of the Church. Moreover, the Holy See declared that any Catholic who became a Freemason or supported Freemasonry was excommunicated.
When the revision of canon law was published in early 1983, the revised list of crimes meriting excommunication did not mention Freemasonry. The relevant revise canon merely stated that those who join associations which plot against the Church are to be penalised. Immediately some claimed that there is no longer any prohibition against Freemasonry; others claimed it is in order for a Catholic to become a Freemason, provided he does not plot against the Church. The Vatican responded by issuing a declaration on 26 November 1983 which stated that the Church’s attitude to Freemasonry has not changed; that Catholic membership is still prohibited; that Masonic principles are still contrary to Catholic teaching; and that it is sinful for Catholics to become Freemasons, even though that sin no longer carries the harsh penalty of excommunication which is still attached to certain very grave sins.
The Church has never condemned the various philanthropic works that Masonic lodges promote or are engaged in, just as the Church has never condemned the philanthropic works done by other Christian denominations and religions. But the Church does not approve all the tenets of other denominations and religions, and she never gives approval for Catholics to join other denominations or religions.
As a bishop I am totally committed to the teaching and practise of the universal Church under Pope John Paul II, according to which I will continue to govern this largest diocese in Oceania.
Yours sincerely in Christ
Denis J. Hart
Archbishop of Melbourne
* * * * *
The Editor’s response
25 February 2004
Most Rev. Denis J. Hart
I acknowledge receipt of your fax of 23 February 2004.
I completely reject your accusation of intemperance, untruth and injustice in my treatment of the Knights of the Southern Cross/Freemason debacle and your notable absence from the fray.
In context, my comments were restrained and even somewhat favourable to yourself, based on my knowledge of your orthodoxy. But the gap between personal orthodoxy and practical postconciliar laxity and negligence is another thing altogether. In this regard, your letter of complaint raises all sorts of additional issues and questions.
I stated that the Masonic Centre get-together went ahead and was photographed and reported at length in Australia’s largest circulation daily newspaper, Melbourne’s Herald-Sun, as a ‘Catholic-Masonic rapprochement’. So, while your letter to Colin Walsh and the KSC after the event is welcome (though still sadly deficient since not circumventing future scandals by clearly banning KSC-Masonic interraction) it is too little too late. The real damage, through erroneous public perception, which nowadays is everything, had already been done.
I will take you at your word that initially you did not know about the East Timor project, although your episcopal brother, Hilton Deakin, seemed well enough informed. But why weren’t the KSC immediately told to desist from any future shows of false comradeship once you learnt of the project, thus killing the December 2003 function stone dead? And, subsequently, where was the public correction to rectify the public scandal observed by a million Herald-Sun readers? Where was the press statement? In light of the media reports, have your clergy been asked to restate Catholic teaching on Masonry from their pulpits as a matter of urgency? Why did you not insist on personally addressing the KSC membership on the issue at the first available opportunity (do you really trust the compromised Mr Walsh to adequately convey your message to his members)? Where is the understanding of the gravity of the situation? The pastoral zeal for truth and innocent souls? The Catholic conviction and leadership?
But let’s back up a little and reflect on the real issues here: episcopal indifference and neglect - sins of omission.
I hardly need to quote you papal chapter and verse prohibiting, as I wrote, "any kind of co-operation whatsoever" with the Lodge [Leo XIII]. And yet the KSC have been co-operating locally with Masonic groups in Victoria, and doubtless elsewhere, for years. A Knight casually informed me about it in the early ’80s while trying to recruit me. It is a well known scandal. Firm action by you (or your predecessors) could have put an end to such activity long ago and snuffed out any thought of Masonic Centre-style gatherings, let alone insidious joint ventures like the East Timor exercise. How many times do we have to repeat that what we require from our shepherds are Deeds not Words! Facta non Verba! Is Bishop Bruskewitz of Nebraska the only prelate left who lives by this dictum, especially where it concerns Freemasonry?
In other words, if this long-standing dereliction of duty has now returned to haunt you, Your Grace, if it has all blown up in your face, who’s fault is that? If Mr Walsh and his brother Knights clearly have not the slightest clue about Freemasonry, it’s history and purpose and danger to the Church, who is to blame? Considering the constant and most severe papal proscriptions, what could possibly excuse episcopal inaction before ongoing, disobedient KSC fraternisation with the Lodge?
To those of us in the trenches constantly fighting rearguard actions to correct pervasive ignorance of Church teaching on Masonry and attempting to convince Catholic men, young and old alike, that the Lodge is strictly off limits, the false messages signalled by scandalous episodes like this are devastating. Ultimately, they lacerate the Body of Christ and endanger souls.
My response, therefore, was both considered and perfectly commensurate with the evil involved - which by any Catholic reckoning adds up to precisely what I said: a "pernicious compromising of the Faith and undermining of papal teaching."
That you found my criticisms, on the contrary, "intemperate" and "unjust" only serves to underline the tragic truth of the hierarchy’s present "diabolic disorientation" - and its penchant for shooting messengers and shifting blame.