In recent weeks, there has been an increasing concern across Europe within the fraternity about anti-Masonic government activity in Italy. The Italians keep at it by abusing anti-Mafia laws against Freemasonry, in much the same way RICO laws in the U.S. designed to fight organized crime got contorted and exploited to prevent anti-abortion protesters from marching in front of Planned Parenthood clinics. This kind of institutionalized anti-Masonry has briefly succeeded before in Italy after the P2 scandal in the 1980s, and in England under then-Home Secretary Jack Straw. It was only stopped by a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2009 that decided laws demanding Freemasons turn over their lists of membership or personally declare their membership publicly as a requirement for employment or public office violated Article 41 of the European Union’s Convention on Human Rights regarding free association and non-discrimmination against specifically Masonic organizations.
The French language blog, 3, 5, 7, et Plus, is an excellent one for keeping abreast of activities in Europe regarding Freemasonry that go unreported over here. Its author usually does a pretty good job of presenting stories that can sometimes be complex, because he is aware of the many competing (and frequently bewildering) Masonic obediences at work in those countries. The site’s author is anonymous and freely states his own subjectivity: he is a 24+ year member of the Grand Orient de France, so keep that frame of reference in mind. But his articles about the situation in Italy do a good job of laying out what’s happening. I excerpt two of his entries below.
(NOTE: I relied upon Microsoft’s translator and my own limited French vocabulary, so any errors he may have made in distilling Italian press coverage into French will only be compounded by my own methodology, including any improper word substitutions. I freely accept any corrections others may wish to offer. I further apologize for any formatting problems that might appear on various web browsers or platforms. This has to do with the way I had to import the articles as run through the translator software.)
The February 6th post, Italy: Freemasonry and Transparency reads, in part:
Since the case of the Propaganda Due Lodge, better known under the name of P2, the Italian anti-Masons are obsessed with the negative influence that they lend to Freemasonry on political, social and economic life. They live in the idea that one of the causes of this harmful influence lies in the secret of belonging. This idea could be supported by a search of the home of Licio Gelli, March 17, 1981, during which the police took hold of the list of 962 members of P2. This list included a significant number of parliamentarians, Ministers and former Ministers, senior officials, members of the secret service, contractors or even journalists. Since then, opponents of Freemasonry are convinced that it would be sufficient to publish the lists of Masons to do away with what they call the “massomafia.” They however forget that the P2 was suspended by the Grand Orient of Italy in 1976 and that this suspension did not prevent Licio Gelli, its Worshipful Master, to continue illegal activities.
30 years after the affair of the P2, Italian Freemasonry is again summoned to account. It is accused to be infiltrated by the Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, despite that the infiltration has yet demonstrated by evidence. It is sufficient that a Mammasantissima (head of the mafia in Calabria) crossed the path of a Freemason that wildest suspicions appear, and suggest a collaboration between the mafia and Masonic networks. A parliamentary anti-mafia [committee], chaired by Ms. Rosy Bindi – a politician from the ranks of the former Christian democracy [political party] – heard the principal leaders of the Masonic obediences on the [Italian] peninsula. She asked them to produce a list of their members. Without success. It should indeed be noted that Stefano Bisi, Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy (23,000 brothers across 850 lodges), refused on behalf of the freedom of association and respect for privacy. He said:
“Unfortunately, we always deplore the persistence of anti–Masonic prejudice within Italian society: giving the names of the members of the Grand Orient of Italy would put them in great embarrassment and take the risk of exposing them to a witch hunt…
The secret of belonging is guaranteed by the law on privacy. Even political parties, associations and trade unions are not required to reveal the identity of their members. Whenever there was a scandal, no one went to ask them to disclose the names of their members. What would be for others, why not apply for us? … I consider this request as a form of persecution.”
“Our principles and the qualities required to become Freemasons are well explained on our website. Our rules are known and fully transparent. Those who come to the Grand Orient of Italy for interested reasons will not aid the brothers… We, masons, are the first to have an interest to blocking the infiltration of the mafia. Among the requirements to be admitted into Freemasonry, there is an obligation to have a criminal report. I am neither judge nor police officer. I can’t determine whether some person belong to the mafia if the judicial authority tells me not… Whenever there is a suspicion of a criminal infiltration and we are warned, we then take disciplinary action…”
Antonio Binnie, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Italy (8,000 members, 40% women divided into 510 lodges), is on the same line:
“I can’t access this application, there is a law on the protection of personal information”
The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Italy pointed to the exorbitant nature of this request. How can parliamentarians insist at this point that the Masonic obediences violate a law passed by Parliament in 2003?
However, Fabio Venzi, Grand Master of the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy (3,500 brothers divided into 310 lodges), said that they are ready to collaborate with the Parliamentary Committee.
“I am ready to publish the list on our site. This would remove any reservations to those who still see corruption in the world of Freemasonry.”
However, it is not at all certain the brothers of this obedience appreciate the declaration for the less alarming to their Grand Master. Did Venzi speak too quickly without thinking about the practical implications of his comments? It is quite possible. In the meantime, he should remember the mishap that happened to one of his predecessors, the brother Giuliano Di Bernardo in 1993. The latter, at the time Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy, had seriously thought to turn over the files of the members of his obedience to the judicial authorities. Di Bernardo had been pushed, said, by the United Grand Lodge of England. However, Di Bernardo was disavowed and brought to resign of the Grand Orient of Italy. He then left with some three hundred brothers and founded the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy of which, by the way, he is no longer a member since 2002 (he became Grand Master of an esoteric order called ‘Dignity Order’ which seems to have no Masonic character). Venzi should ponder the lessons of the past.
Be that as it may, the anti-mafia parliamentary commission wanted to quickly get the lists of the members of the different obediences. However, it is highly unlikely that it was satisfied because this application raises significant legal problems that go far beyond the postures of Ms. Bindi who is often [known for her own] national political ambitions. The President of the parliamentary commission has spread in the press stories about alleged risks of maconnico-mafia collusion, it is clear that there are not, today in Italy, Freemasons charged and referred to as such in the courts. And even if there was only one [so charged], it would not have made as far the membership and the active support of Masonic obediences in activities illegal and criminally punishable. For example just look at the recent case of Occhionero why Italians Freemasons, not the least, were victims of cyber-spying.
In short, as often, you have to bring things back to fairer proportions. Within the Masonic order, there may always be black sheep, just as there may be, within the Roman Catholic Church, to which Ms. Bindi is close, pedophile priests, thieves or other common criminals. It does not mean that all Freemasons and all clergymen are to be tossed in the same bag. In either case, intellectual honesty is [required] to avoid generalizations that cause trouble in the spirits and threaten civil liberties, including freedom of association.
A follow up February 13th post, The Espresso and the Abolition of Freemasonry continues the story, once it gained publicity in one of Italy’s most influential magazines:
In its issue of February 12, 2017, the weekly L’Espresso [magazine] caused a controversy which immediately led a very energetic reaction of the Grand Orient of Italy via the voice of the Grand Master Stefano Bisi.
The famous Italian weekly has indeed published a long article by Gianfrancesco Turano, journalist and novelist, entitled (no less): “Abolish Freemasonry”. This article isn’t yet an investigation. Rather, it is a reminder of what is said or what could be said in Italy on the alleged links between the criminal and the lodges in Calabria, on the hearings of officials of Masonic obediences by the parliamentary anti-mafia commission and on access to the files that contain the identity and contact information of their members. Turano came inevitably on the case of the P2 lodge and of Occhionero, who hit the headlines recently. Finally, he recalled the ongoing judicial investigations and concluded, provocatively, that Freemasonry should be abolished.
L’Espresso does not claim support of the ban on Freemasonry but seems rather to have one editorial [viewpoint] throughout this article. Nevertheless, the process is brutal because L’Espresso is a real institution in Italy. This title of the Italian press participated in all major battles as a corporation. To make a comparison with France, it’s as if Nouvel Observateur, a weekly [publication] of the left and centre-left, published a similar case with a shock title.
In a press release, published on the day of the release of the weekly [issue], the Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy has counterattacked:
“I’m sorry and worried than a weekly of great traditions, in the history of our country, which has attended during its sixty years of existence, to large battles like divorce, civil rights, the fights against corruption and embezzlement, which is headed by men with strong secular principles, decided to indulge such grandstanding [expression used by Bisi is ‘paper tiger’]. ‘. When we make the choice to publish titles like “Abolish Freemasonry”, you can only consider the purely ideological intention to knock the birthplace of free thought. Well, I believe that democracy and freedom of association are really in danger.
While Italy is mired in a crisis without end, while, unfortunately, political parties increasingly are in crisis and are likely to be defeated by the demagogic populism of certain movements, we can only be amazed at the sudden attention on Freemasonry which continues to be a comfortable and safe to hide the real problems of the country.
The idea of manhunt is still supported by demand by the anti-Mafia Commission to produce lists of Masons, the vulgar and enunciated attempt to not give us the documents from the inquiry in 2000 archived Cordova and morbid attention in the media. But the Freemasons of the Grand Orient of Italy have managed to overcome many other events and do not bow before the fascists and defeatists who are always plotting in the shadows. Now, in the face of this new clumsy attempt to discredit Freemasonry and destroy it, it will be ready to fight anywhere because it does not affect the greatest Act of our Constitution: the right to think freely, a right which has been for three hundred years the landmark of the Freemason. We we will not be intimidated and influenced by anyone.”
I fully understand the strong reaction of Stefano Bisi. The Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy expressed a weariness at the reports ordered by editors according to the ideas of the moment. Gianfrancisco Turno’s article brings nothing new. It contains no special revelation.
It seems that this issue has been published in order to satisfy the readers and to provoke, in the Italian political landerneau, the clash or “buzz” as they say now. We give people what they want to know rather than what they need to know. Freemasonry makes sales. Its mysterious side fuels the fantasies. Stefano Bisi deplores, rightly, that a weekly [magazine] so emblematic as L’Espresso has decided to excite the instincts and fantasies of people and produce opinion asking.
Today being a Freemason is still a subject of controversy. This is serious, it is clear that for part of the Italian public opinion, to be a member of a Masonic lodge makes you a criminal, a mobster, an individual who has sworn allegiance to the dark powers, a traitor, etc. And no matter that the obediences have disciplinary proceedings. It doesn’t matter that they disqualify Freemasons who have committed acts contrary to the law.
On behalf of so-called democratic transparency, parliamentarians, journalists, political parties (often populist), citizens are demanding, with this ostentatious conscience, a public display of other citizens because of their Masonic membership. They are calling for transparency to which they are unwilling to consent themselves if they were so targeted.
Most U.S. Freemasons know little or nothing about the intricacies of European Freemasonry and how or why it has evolved over the centuries. It is a confusing minefield at best for even the most seasoned brethren who concern themselves with it. In the case of Italy, an important case in point is this. As alluded in the above articles, the Grand Orient of Italy is the largest obedience in that country, and the body that the overwhelming majority of U.S. grand lodges recognize. But in a rarity, the United Grand Lodge of England – from whom many U.S. grand lodges seek clarity and guidance – recognizes the much smaller and newer Regular Grand Lodge of Italy. The U.S. did not uniformly follow UGLE’s action, and continues not to do so.
The French Mason who writes the 3, 5, 7, and More blog also quite conveniently laid out the current lineup of grand obediences at work in Italy at this time, with a very brief explanation of the two major ones:
Italian Freemasonry today.
As in France, Italy never had unified Masonic tradition even though the creation of modern Italy in 1870 led the rites to work under the auspices of the Grand Orient, the historically established obedience in 1805. [It was dominant at that] given time, but this was short-lived. In 1908, there was indeed a rift between two trends: the trend of the so-called Masonry of the “Palazzo Giustiniani” (name of the former headquarters of the Grand Orient) and the tendency of the so-called Masonry of the “47 Piazza del Gesù'”(name of the former headquarters of the Grand Lodge). The first trend is attached to a Masonry engaged in social thinking. It remains heavily involved in the fight for the Secularization of Italian society. The second trend is attached to an essentially spiritual Masonry and limited secular debates. Masonic activities were prohibited under Fascist Italy from 1925 to 1945. The historical Italian obediences resumed their activities after the end of the second world war. New obediences appeared. Fragmentation has increased. Each federation of lodges, depending on its sensitivity, is claimed to “Palazzo Giustiniani” Masonry or Masonry of the “Piazza del Gesù.” Nevertheless, [ideology of the] two trends have nothing to do with notions of regularity and irregularity. Indeed, the Grand Orient of Italy (“Palazzo Giustiniani”) was long recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England, more exactly until 1993, and it also hopes to recover one day this recognition. The Grand Lodge of Italy (“Piazza del Gesù”), is a founding member of the CLIPSAS and mixed since 1956. The reader will find below a non-exhaustive list of Masonic obediences.
|Grand Orient of Italy
|Serenissima Grande Lodge of the Rite Symbolism Italian
||1859 (joined the GOI in 1922 while maintaining a certain autonomy)
|Grand Lodge of Italy F&AM
|Italian Federation of Human Right
|Grand Lodge C.A.M.E.A.
|United Grand Lodge of Italy
|Grand Lodge of Italy of Universal Masonry
|Grand Orient Italian of the Strict Observance
|The Freemasons of Italy National Grand Lodge
|Women’s Grand Lodge of Italy
|Symbolic Order of the Egyptian Rite
|Regular Grand Lodge of Italy
|Grand Independent United Lodge of Italy
|Grand Italian Lodge of Ancient Observance
|Traditional Grand Lodge of Italy