by Michael Durnan
Photos by Beverly Stevens and Michael Durnan
Aren't the Masons just a voluntary service organization, like the Rotary Club? What possible connection could they have to Mexico? In this concise article, REGINA writer Michael Durnan sheds light on the hidden history of the Masons in Mexico — and looks at their influence today.
Why the Church Condemns the Masons
By the time Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Humanus Genus in 1884, in which he condemned Freemasonry, eight of his predecessors had already done so.
Why, then, did he do this? Pope Leo XIII had been stirred into action by Freemasons who claimed the Church's condemnation of their organisation had been based on false and erroneous information and was excessively severe.
In his encyclical, the pope dismissed such claims and classed Freemasonry as a grouping of secret societies in the ‘kingdom of Satan and wished to bring back, after eighteen centuries, the manners and customs of the pagans’. He described Masonry as subversive of Church and state, condemned it for its rejection of Christian revelation, and for its religious indifferentism – the idea that all religions are equally valid.
In addition, he warned against the effectiveness of the Masonic organisation, its use of figurehead leaders, and its subtle use of ‘double-speak’. He urged all the bishops of The Church, to whom the encyclical was addressed, ‘first of all to tear away the mask of Freemasonry and let it be seen for what it really is.’
What Masonry Really Is
Freemasonry originated in Protestant Scotland and then spread south to England, where it achieved great influence and prominence. Many of the aristocracy, politicians and even Church of England clergy were enthusiastic and committed Masons. Freemasonry was taken by the colonists from Britain to present day USA and Canada. Many of the Founding Fathers of the USA were Masons. (Editor's Note: In the USA, at least nine of the 59 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons, including George Washington. Statues of Washington were prominently placed in European capitals in the 19th century by local Masons, including one in Rome's aristocratic Borghese Gardens.)
Freemasonry spread to continental Europe where it became fashionable amongst the educated and sympathisers of the Enlightenment. In France many of the revolutionaries supporting the overthrow of the Ancien Regime and monarchy — such as the hideous Robespierre — were Masons. In France, and other mainland European Catholic kingdoms, Freemasonry developed an anti-clerical and anti-Catholic flavour and outlook. Masons saw themselves as standing for progress and enlightenment and the Catholic Church as an obstacle to these noble aims. For these Masons, the Church and monarchy were reactionary institutions holding back and oppressing mankind.
(Editor's Note: In the 19th and 20th centuries, American Protestants enjoyed great advantages in networking through the Masons into important positions in government, law and business. In addition, the Ku Klux Klan recruited membership through local Masonic Lodges in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and figured prominently in the fight against Catholic schools in many US states.)
The Masons in Mexico
Mexico, and other parts of present day Latin America, once belonged to the kingdom of Spain and was a vice-royalty. Mexico was governed by a viceroy who was appointed by the King of Spain to rule in his name and under his authority. The Catholic Church was able to conduct its mission and pastoral care of the subjects of New Spain, as Mexico was known, with the support, encouragement and protection of the Spanish Crown.
As New Spain developed, some of the native-born Mexicans of Spanish ancestry, known as criollos, wished to declare their independence from Spain. By the late 18th C., after the Jesuits – many of whom were criollos – were expelled from the Spanish Empire in 1767, discontent amongst many criollos with Spanish rule really began to stir.
It was about this time that Freemasonry is thought to have arrived in Mexico. Some say that it arrived with immigrants from France but their Masonic cult was condemned by the local Inquisition and ordered to desist. (The first Lodge known to exist in México met at the shop of French watchmaker Juan Esteban Laroche, until the Inquisition arrested them while celebrating the Summer Solstice in 1791.[i]It is also thought that Freemasonry arrived from Spain via France where The Grand Orient was very active.
Half a century later, John Roberts Pointsett arrived in Mexico as US Ambassador. Pointsett's 1822 appointment was a very significant and influential development in the story of Freemasonry in Mexico. While Pointsett is more remembered for his introduction of the ‘Pointsettia' Christmas flower to the USA on his return from Mexico, it was his powerful Masonic connections and his eventful years as ambassador there which are more important — and far less known.
With Pointsett’s arrival in Mexico, the story of Freemasonry became more complex, controversial and factional. Poinsett was a follower of the York Rite of Freemasonry; most others in Mexico were adherents of the Scottish Rite. These two groups often diverged along political fault lines. The Scottish Rite Masons often supported the Church and its position and privileges and tend to be more conservative, monarchical and Eurocentric, whereas the York Rite Masons tended to support a more liberal political position, were republican in sentiment and were opposed to the Church and its influence. The USA, even with a separation of church and state, was a predominantly Protestant nation in outlook and culture and as a Republic tended to view monarchies with suspicion. Hence escoceses became synonymous with Conservatives, and yorkinos with Liberals
Poinsett used his extensive Masonic connections as a tool to aid USA’s interventionist foreign policy in Mexico and this was the beginning of Freemasonry’s long, influential and not always benign involvement in Mexican politics.
One of Mexico’s most influential and important political figures was President Benito Juarez (1806-1872) who was also a committed Mason and atheist. Freemasonry influenced Juarez’s political outlook and he saw himself as a liberal and reformist intent on sweeping away the remnants of Mexico’s colonial past. Benito Juarez was of indigenous descent and his parents were poor peasants; he was educated by the Jesuits. On becoming President he ordered the confiscation of Church lands, the separation of Church and State and the near disenfranchisement of Catholic clergy and religious through the Juarez Law or Ley Juarez. His membership in the Masons undoubtedly influenced his antipathy towards organised religion, especially the Catholic Church.
STRIKING AIRPORT WORKERS' BANNER DEPICTING EMILIANO ZAPATA, revolutionary 19th century military leader claimed by many Latin American Masons today as a secret Mason.
Plutarco Elias Calles was another virulently anti-Catholic Mason who was elected president in 1924. His term was marked by policies and laws designed to curtail the influence of the Church throughout Mexico. Calles moved to enforce the anti-clerical articles of the 1917 Constitution which would result in a violent backlash and the outbreak of what became known as The Cristeros War. His anti-Catholic actions included outlawing religious orders, and depriving the Church of property rights. Shrewdly, he also deprived Catholic priests and nuns of their civil liberties, including their right to trial by jury when they were accused of breaking these unjust anti-clerical laws and the right to vote.
MEXICAN PRESIDENT CALLES WAS AN ATHEIST AND A MASON, and a favorite of American presidents such as William Howard Taft (left) and Calvin Coolidge (right).
Due to Calles's strict and sometimes violent enforcement of anti-Catholic laws, people in strongly Catholic areas, especially the states of Jalisco, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Colima and Michoacán, began to oppose him. On 1 January 1927, a war cry went up from faithful Catholics, “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” (Editor's Note: More on Calles and the Cristeros HERE.)
MONUMENT TO ANTI-CATHOLICISM: On prime real estate, directly across from Guadalajara's ancient cathedral, this giant monument was erected to ‘The Enlightened Sons of Jalisco' — a reference to all those who have fought against the Church.
Masonry in Mexico Today
From Calles' reign onwards Freemasons have been the predominant force within Mexico’s government; it is said that to rise to middle and upper ranking government positions one has to be a Mason. Only for the very top positions where wealth matters more is membership in Freemasonry is deemed unnecessary.
Freemasonry’s influence has waned because of internal strife and factionalism, but also because many of its original aims are now seen as outdated in modern Mexico. The Catholic Church has much more liberty to express its opinions in the public square and attacks on it are seen as politically foolish.
In the 1940's a new secret society, El Yunque (The Anvil) emerged, a Catholic organization created as a way of combating Masonry and socialist influences. They managed to infiltrate various sectors of Mexican society, particularly COPARMEX (the national chamber of commerce) and for a while seemed to control the National Action Party which supported two successful candidates to the presidency in the 1990's.
Interestingly, the anti-Catholic stance of Mexican governments has mellowed somewhat since the late 1980’s and especially since the establishment of full diplomatic relations with The Holy See.
(Editor's Note: Our interviews with modern Mexicans revealed that, while admitting that Masons were influential in the country's past, most dismiss questions about current Masonic influence as ‘conspiracy theories'.
Globally, Freemasonry admits that it has lost 50% of its membership in the last 40 years. [i] However, due to its continued policy of secrecy, reliable information on the organization is not available at the local level.
Today's Masons in Mexico and elsewhere, of course, are at pains to disassociate themselves from much of their history, at least publicly:
“This paper depicts a form of Freemasonry in Mexico early in the 19th century, not regular Freemasonry, which is very different from Freemasonry today. It contained practices which would not be tolerated now, nor indeed by any regular Grand Lodge even then, being an aberration from normal standards. This is especially so of the political and sectarian involvement mentioned in the paper, which is totally repugnant to regular Freemasonry.”[ii])