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Friday, November 25, 2005

P2 Lodge

P2 Lodge Cover Originally a lodge under the jurisdiction of the Grand Orient of Italy, their warrant was revoked and a number of their members expelled for unmasonic conduct.
The P2 Incident was a by-product of three related factors; the vagaries of Italian masonic history, the joint effects of past repressions and social patronage on the Italian Craft, and certain defects in their Constitution.

Italian masonic history has been influenced by the political and ethnic history of that country and the P2 Incident needs to be placed in that context. Irregular lodges (not recognized by mainstream Freemasonry), both in France and Italy, had become quite political during revolutionary periods in their national histories, and operated as true secret societies. Italy has only been a united country since 1870 and regional, ethnic and traditional differences are still felt in contemporary Italian society. Italian society, then and now, has been said to largely run on patronage and favouritism. Few other Grand Lodges had recognized Italian masonry as regular until 1972.

Several Grand Lodges have been formed in Italy, the first in 1750, but all were proscribed or suppressed and, with the exception of the short period during the Napoleonic Occupation, Freemasonry was not revived until about 1860 when two Grand masonic bodies emerged. The first, the "Supreme Council Grand Orient of Italy" opened in Turin; later moving to Rome.
Although politics and religion were officially banned from discussion in lodges, in practice the Italian temperament views discussion of state affairs as a duty. In 1908 a schism resulted when the Grand Orient expelled a number of members for their political stance and the National Grand Lodge was formed. It continues to this day as an irregular body.
Masonry was again prohibited in Italy from 1926 to 1945. At this time several competing groups sprung up, out of which the Grand Orient of Italy and the National Grand Lodge resumed their leading positions. This Grand Orient was considered regular by many American Grand Lodges and extended recognition. It was recognized as regular by the English, Irish and Scottish Grand Lodges in 1972 and shortly thereafter by a number of other Grand Lodges who tend to take their direction from the United Grand Lodge of England. The following year, the majority of Lodges under the National Grand Lodge seceded and joined the Grand Orient, leaving the National Grand Lodge as a weak and splintered dissident group. Although the National Grand Lodge is not relevant to this article, this history of suppression, irregularity, political infighting, and class consciousness is.

In 1877 the Grand Orient granted a warrant to a lodge in Rome called "Propaganda Massonica". This lodge was frequented by politicians and government officials from across Italy who were unable to attend their own lodges. Although its potential for masonic mischief was recognized, there is no evidence that any was forthcoming. The lodge was not on the Grand Orient’s registers but operated as the Grand Master’s own private Lodge, allowing for the initiation of members whose names would not therefore appear on the Grand Orient’s rolls. If any apology is needed, it should be noted that "an organization which had a long experience of great opposition to it, of political and religious damnation, and of being often forced to close up, is likely to view every influential friend it can get as important."

When the Grand Orient was revived after the Second World War it was decided to number the lodges by drawing lots; Lodge Propaganda drew number two, thus it became P2. It rarely held meetings and was almost inactive.

In 1967, Brother Licio Gelli, who had been initiated into a lodge in Rome in 1965, was placed in virtual control of P2 by the Grand Master of the day. He was considered to be a shrewd and successful businessman with a great gift for recruiting. In 1970 he was made secretary of P2 and subsequently a substantial number of well-placed men were initiated. In most recognized Grand Lodge jurisdictions, these practices would not be countenanced. An argument could be made that by Italian standards, nothing was amiss.
Gelli’s growing influence became a concern of the then Grand Master who, in late 1974, proposed that P2 be erased. At the Grand Orient Communication in December 1974, of the 406 lodges represented, 400 voted for its erasure. In March 1975 Gelli accused the Grand Master of gross financial irregularities, withdrawing the accusations only after the Grand Master issued a warrant for a new P2 Lodge — despite the fact that the Grand Orient had erased it only four months earlier. P2 was considered regular; its membership was no longer secret and Gelli was its master. In 1976, Gelli requested that P2 be suspended but not erased. This nuance of jurisprudence meant that he could continue to preserve some semblance of regularity for his private club without being answerable to the Grand Orient.

By 1978, suspect financial arrangements involving the Grand Master prompted many other Grand Lodges to threaten to withdraw recognition, and the Grand Master resigned before his term expired. Gelli promptly financed the election campaign of the Immediate Past Grand Master, but the Grand Orient elected another candidate as their new leader.
In 1980, Gelli told a press interview that Freemasonry was a puppet show in which he pulled the strings. Italian Masonry was outraged by this, struck a masonic tribunal which in 1981 expelled him, and decided that P2 had been erased as a Lodge in 1974 and therefore any contrary action by a Grand Master had been illegal.
The same year the police investigated Gelli for a range of fraudulent activities and, in searching his house, found a P2 register of 950 names — mostly prominent people. Several government ministers resigned and the Italian Government fell. Gelli managed to get out of the country. A Special Parliamentary Commission found Gelli to have an obscure and opportunistic past and to count among his friends many such as the fraudulent banker Roberto Calvi (1920? - 1982/06/19), chairman of Banco Ambrosiano in Milan who was later found dead under London’s Blackfriars Bridge, and the banker Sindona who was later jailed in the USA for fraud and suspected murder. The nature and aims of Gelli’s alleged political intrigues have never been explained. From his South American hideaway, he has sent out obscure messages and has offered to give himself up to Italian police if certain conditions were met. The authorities have issued no public statement.
The President of the Parliamentary Commission of Investigation, while openly hostile to Freemasonry at the outset, eventually declared that Freemasonry itself had been Gelli’s first and principal victim. While three successive Grand Masters (two now deceased and one expelled from Freemasonry) had manipulated secret funds, secret members, secret decisions and secret lodges, the body of Italian Freemasonry was neither guilty nor culpable in the P2 Affair.

At the Grand Orient Meeting of March 1982, no incumbent Grand Officer was re-elected.

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