Col.Despard wrote:These days, Masonry does accept Catholics, although membership of secret societies is specifically prohibited by the RCs and so is technically out of bounds.
Freemasonry always has included people of Catholic background (Mozart, a huge no. of French and central/southern European revolutionaries); it also admitted Jews on an equal basis. However, the Catholic Church set itself against Freemasonry because of its involvement in many of the reform and revolution movements in late 18-19C, especially in predominantly Catholic countries, as liberal generally = anticlerical. It's one of the numerous subjects against which Pius IX's Syllabus of Errors
rants ("IV. SOCIALISM, COMMUNISM, SECRET SOCIETIES, BIBLICAL SOCIETIES, CLERICO-LIBERAL SOCIETIES"). The famous flag which contributed to the execution of Mariana de Pineda Muñoz
in 1831 included Masonic symbols.
True of some strains of Freemasonry - indeed, if one is to follow the basic tenants of Freemasonry, the only necessity regarding religious faith is the affirmation of belief in a "Supreme Architect" - so any form of monotheism would certainly be acceptable, including Roman Catholicism. The (perceived or actual) anticlericalism is certainly a major reason for the RC's opposition to Freemasonry - on a theological basis, it is in opposition to the organisation's deism.
In practice, however, particularly in an Irish-Catholic context (which is where most of my experience is - one reason why I'm so interested in how the French experience differs), Freemasonry has been linked with an Anglo-Protestant or Scots-Protestant establishment and has frequently been hostile to Catholicism. It is no coincidence that the Peep-'o-Day boys and their succesors, the Orangemen, were organised along the Masonic lodge system (this is a simplification, I recognise - for example, there are some suggestions that at least some early Orangement objected to the Sectarian violence of the Peep-O'-Day boys).
This continued in Australia, with ramifications that have been felt in my own family and with friends. I know from an uncle who served in the New South Wales policeforce of the equivalent of a glass ceiling for those who were not Mason and Protestant. According to him, the greatest career mistake one could make upon joining the Police in NSW was to reveal that one was a.) a Catholic and b.) not a Freemason. My own grandmother, daughter of a prominent Freemason, was only able to marry an Irish Catholic after her father (a prominent Swedish Mason) had passed away. The attitude persisted until fairly recently - my best friend had the maiden name "Kelly". When she was introduced to the father of the man she later married, one of his first questions was "what is your surname?"
Her boyfriend (and later husband) intimated that this was because his Anglo-Protestant, Masonic father wanted to ascertain her ethno-religious background. "Kelly", as far as he was concerned, was a dead giveaway, and he objected to the relationship on the basis of her (supposed) Irish-Catholicism.
The irony is, she was neither Irish nor Catholic. The name came from her father who was predominantly of Aboriginal descent...like many ex-slaves in the US who adopted the names of their former owners on obtaining freedom, one of his ancestors had adopted the name of the station owner on whose property he worked.
The Roman Catholic church is generally uneasy with secret societies - it is interesting that some devout RCs, even within the Irish revolutionary tradition, have been uneasy with organisations such as the Irish Republican Brotherhood for that reason.