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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After participating in a seminar on the Catholic Church and the Freemasons, an Italian bishop reaffirmed that Catholics who belong to Masonic lodges are in a “serious state of sin” and cannot receive Communion.

Bishop Antonio Staglianò, president of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, spoke to Vatican News Feb. 24 after participating in the seminar Feb. 16 with the leaders of Italy’s three main Masonic lodges, Archbishop Mario Delpini of Milan and Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

The seminar was sponsored by GRIS, an Italian Catholic research group founded in the 1980s to promote research about cults and religious sects.

News that the seminar was taking place -- behind closed doors -- made headlines across Italy, particularly because in November the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed church teaching that membership in Freemasonry is incompatible with being Catholic.

“Active membership in Freemasonry by a member of the faithful is forbidden because of the irreconcilability between Catholic doctrine and Freemasonry,” the doctrinal office said, pointing to the longstanding church position, explained in detail in the office’s “Declaration on Masonic Associations” in 1983.

Catholics enrolled in Masonic associations “are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion,” the 1983 declaration said.

According to the newspaper Il Messaggero, Archbishop Delpini told participants the meeting was not about reconciliation or “absolution, but about fostering conversations between people to get to know each other’s points of view, to record their convergence or distance.”

The opening speech by Stefano Bisi, grand master of the Grand Orient of Italy, the main Masonic Lodge, was posted on the lodge’s website.

“I would like the prelate, the man of the cloth in front of me, not to be afraid of me and I would like not to be afraid of him,” Bisi said. “I am glad to be here today because it means that steps forward on the path of knowledge and respect have been taken.”

The grand master claimed that in its “300 years of existence, no institution has been opposed, fought, mystified, vilified and so feared as universal Freemasonry.”

Bisi told the Catholic leaders that “there has not been a significant attempt at openness” to the Masons during the pontificate of Pope Francis, even though the pope has reached out to LGBTQ+ Catholics and those who are divorced and civilly remarried.

“But he has forgotten that among the Masons there are many Catholics, who are impeded from receiving Communion,” he said, “and when there were negotiations about giving credentials to an ambassador who was a Mason, he said, ‘no.’”

After participating in the meeting, Bishop Staglianò told Vatican News the church’s teaching would not change because the Mason’s idea of God and even of charity and fraternity were so different from Catholic teaching.

“Masonry is a heresy that fundamentally aligns with the Arian heresy,” he said, “imagining that Jesus was the Great Architect of the Universe,” as they define the Supreme Being, “denying the divinity of Christ” as the Arians did.

Such a fundamental difference in saying who God is also means Catholics and Masons have a different understanding of who human beings are, why they are all brothers and sisters and why they are called to engage in charity, the bishop said.

“In short,” Bishop Staglianò said, “when we speak of irreconcilability we are referring to deep contradictions.”

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