I have found that amongst the more faithful Catholics that the dangers and influence of Freemasonry are more discussed and thought about than any other group of people in the world. In fact, in both length and longevity, no organization has written more on the dangers and Freemasonry than the Catholic Church. The hostility of some Baptist Protestants and Muslims towards Freemasonry, and the general suppression of Freemasonry in most communist countries does not even come close to matching the consistency, clarity, and authority that the Catholic Church has contributed to this subject. Yet, even with this, Freemasonry and the Masonic Orders are terribly misunderstood among Catholics, even by those who talk about them the most.
Speaking correctly about what Freemasonry is and what the Catholic Church actually teaches about its threat is not only good for Catholics, but it is also good for those who have been enticed and drawn into becoming a Freemason. In contrast, speaking incorrectly about Freemasonry, harms Catholics personally and spiritually because it leaves them ignorant of dogmatic truths, and it harms any good work of evangelization that they could have done to lead Freemasons out of Freemasonry if they had not been ignorant.
To help clear up any misconceptions or bad information, in this essay, I will be defining and broadly explaining the formal organization of Freemasonry and how membership in it is distinguished. In future essays, I will treat the religion, philosophy, rituals, and plots of this organization.
Concerning the Formal Organization
What I have noticed is that the words ‘Freemasonry’ or ‘Freemasonic’ (which is not found in any Masonic dictionary and please never use it around a Freemason, so that you do not get laughed at), are treated as adjectives rather than nouns; such as we would call a person a Marxist – we do not necessarily mean to imply that they are a card carrying member of a registered Marxist political party, but, simply, that they have been noticed to have espoused political and/or economic theories that are attributed to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Likewise, we might use terms such as ‘relativist’ or ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ in that same spirit – not as nouns, but as adjectives.
The problem with using the word ‘Freemasonry’ as an adjective is that Freemasonry is only an organization and not a philosophy or ideology in and of itself. Both the philosophy and religion of Freemasonry is best described as being syncretic; in that it blends together various philosophies and religions into itself – relativism, indifferentism, and secularism all are foundational philosophies, just as enough key concepts from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were integrated to affirm an Agnostic’s indifferentism towards religions, and to make a Monotheist feel comfortable in finding that their beliefs had been validated.
Therefore, when we speak of Freemasonry, we are addressing a specific organization, which took rise in 1717 (perhaps 1716) at Apple Tree Tavern in London, and from there spread around the world. We are addressing a specific organization, which although has telling roots in the Catholic Europe guild system, established a constitution in 1723 which gave it an intentional, determinative, and clean break from its Catholic roots. We are speaking of an Anglo-sect of the organization, which although it is dependent upon the Mother Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, and Scotland, now consists of independent and autonomous Grand Lodges operating in what are called ‘jurisdictions.’ The term ‘Freemasonry’ also bespeaks of what is called a Continental-sect, whose grand body is typically called a ‘Grand Orient,’ in contrast to the Anglo-sect’s ‘Grand Lodge.’ Freemasonry would also apply to sects that are not recognized as being legitimate by either the Anglo or the Continental sects, such as Lodges of Freemasons consisting of women, both men and women (i.e., Co-Freemasonry), or lodges that started without permission from a recognized Grand Lodge (so-called ‘clandestine’ or ‘bogus’ by so-called ‘regular’ Grand Lodges).
This distinction and familiarity between Freemasonry and its appendant, concordant, adopted, and affiliated bodies is made note of by Pope Leo XIII in his 1884 Papal Encyclical Humanum Genus:
There are several organized bodies which, though differing in name, in ceremonial, in form and origin, are nevertheless so bound together by community of purpose and by the similarity of their main opinions, as to make in fact one thing with the sect of the Freemasons, which is a kind of center whence they all go forth, and whither they all return (para. 9).
An interesting sidenote, which I touched on in my book, The Catholic Catechism on Freemasonry, according to the infamous anti-Catholic writer Leo Taxil at a private audience 1878, “. . . both Cardinal Rampolia and Pope Leo XIII told him that they had also been initiated into Freemasonry as Entered Apprentices during their youth.” Pope Pius IX was the only other Pope who was said by Freemasons to have been initiated into the order while a youth. These claims by Freemasons are very interesting, given that both Pius IX and Leo XIII wrote most prolifically about Freemasonry and had a peculiar insight that is unknown to the uninitiated.
Concerning Membership and Ranks Therein
Freemasonry proper also only applies to the craft lodge system, which inherently confers the degrees of Freemasonry; that is, Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason (the honorary degree of Past Master is conferred on outgoing elected Worshipful Masters – the highest ranking officer in the lodge). All other degree systems or orders outside of Freemasonry are called ‘Masonic’ and include bodies, such as the Scottish Rite, Royal Arch, Royal and Select Masters, Knights Templar, Ancient and Arabic/Egyptian Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Eastern Stars, and countless others; some recognized by most Grand Lodges, and others not recognized by most or none.
Again, we do not combine the words Freemasonry and Masonic to make up a new word, called ‘Freemasonic.’ First, that is just weird, and, secondly, the two are only related by mutual interest rather than some sort of continuation of degree systems. For, as far as the Grand Lodge is concerned, there is no higher degree than that of Master Mason, and there is no higher elected office in Freemasonry than that of Grand Master, who can suppress and break relationship with any Masonic order that he so chooses. Similarly, your Scottish Rite system would affirm that their highest degree is Grand Inspector General (33rd), and the Royal Arch (although this varies from country to country) will affirm that their highest degree is Royal Arch Mason, but neither a 33rd or Royal Arch Mason has authority over a Master Mason while inside the craft lodge, but the Grand Master has full authority over every member in his jurisdiction and can enter the open meetings of any Masonic Order, even if he himself is not a member of that order. Although it is not likely that a Grand Master would suspend the membership of a Grand Inspector General, he could, and that Grand Inspector General will no longer be able to attend any meetings in any craft lodge or the Scottish Rite until his membership has been restored.
Therefore, when we are stating that someone is a Freemason, what we are positing or presenting as fact is that they have been initiated at least into the first degree (Entered Apprentice) of craft lodge Freemasonry. On the contrary, if what we want to say that they are practicing some of the key principles of Freemasonry, but we do not know if they have been initiated or not, then what we would state is the principle they are guilty of (e.g., “Pope Francis practices indifferentism”), rather than call them a Freemason. Again, such accurate distinctions and proper use of terms proves to be substantially helpful when attempting to evangelize a Freemason.
In the future, I may touch more upon the appendant, affiliated, concordant, and adopted Masonic bodies, but for now, I do want to stress the importance of evangelization to Freemasons being kept simple so that it does not become stupid. Whenever we are speaking about Freemasonry from the Catholic perspective in a public forum, we are evangelizing to Freemasons, we want to keep it simple for three reasons: (1) Most Freemasons do not belong to any other bodies, except for the craft lodge, (2) Outside of the Scottish Rite, there is very little global uniformity of the Masonic bodies, and (3) Freemasonry is the root of the tree and it is from there that we cut down the tree.
So, let us begin that chopping by using correct terminology and not making up strange words like ‘Freemasonic.’
-  Bernheim, Alan, Samii, A. William, Serejski, Eric. The Confession of Leo Taxil. Heredom: The Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society. Scottish Rite Research Society. 1996. Vol. 5, 137 -168.