YORK, England — Leaders of the Church of England, mother church of the world's 70 million Anglicans, on Monday overwhelmingly endorsed a church study accusing Freemasons of blasphemy and heresy.
Some Christians find Masonic rituals disturbing and "positively evil," said the 56-page report. It said some found Masonic rituals had a "psychic effect" on individuals.
The report was approved 394 to 52 by the policymaking General Synod at its regular summer session. Five synod delegates abstained.
However, several speakers said Masons should not be persecuted by the church.
"The important point ought to be that there should be no undue pressure on Christians who are Freemasons, and no witch hunt," said Bishop Stanley Booth-Clibborn of Manchester.
Archbishop of York John Habgood, the church's second highest-ranking prelate, called Freemasonry a "fairly harmless eccentricity."
The report was issued in June by a seven-member church panel, including two Masons, that conducted a 16-month inquiry. The synod, which consists of bishops, clergy and lay members of the Anglican church, commended it for discussion by the church's dioceses.
The report said many elements of Freemasonry had religious overtones. It cited the use of rituals, chaplains, a secret name for God--"Jahbulon"--and a heretical doctrine promising salvation through good works without reference to the grace of God.
The panel found "very fundamental reasons" to question whether Freemasons should remain in the church but stopped short of recommending that any church members who also are Masons resign from the fraternal group.
The secretary general of the synod, Derek Pattinson, is a Mason. Speaking to reporters before the synod vote, he refused to comment on what action he would take if the report were approved.
'A Matter of Concern'
During a three-hour debate Monday, Margaret Hewitt, a sociologist at Exeter University who chaired the inquiry panel, said Freemasonry has been "a matter of concern to Christians both in this country and elsewhere for many years."
Michael Higham, a Royal Navy commander who is grand secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, said there would be further discussions with the church. He said changes could be made to Masonic rituals following Monday's vote, "but we will do it at our own pace."
The United Grand Lodge is the governing body for 8,260 Masonic lodges in England and elsewhere. The grand lodge said before the vote that Freemasonry "is not a religion or a substitute for religion."
The all-male Masonic movement, founded as a secret society in Britain in the 17th Century, has an estimated worldwide membership of 6 million. Freemasons are initiated into the movement with rituals and secret oaths, many rooted in medieval customs and signs of the stonemasons' guild.