"Absolute power corrupts absolutely"
As an introduction to the political intrigue involved with the P2 "lodge" in Italy, readers are reminded that - at one time or another - virtually all organizations suffer from internal power struggles which lead to embarrassing consequences. An example during the mid-1990s which some U.S. readers may recall was that of the United Way, America's largest charity, which was found to be riddled with mismanagement and corrupt practices forcing its head to resign under threat of severe legal action. 'How could it be?', everyone seemed to be asking, that an organization devoted to such high moral principles and knowing of their critical importance to so many needy could have such greedy and unscrupulous leadership? Regrettably, avarice and greed know no boundaries....
Within this context, we find a Masonic problem of similar stature having arisen in Italy, a country where political intrigue and instability is too often a way of life. A country where Socialists battle Communists set amidst a background of the Borgia family and Papal secrecy. How could something like this have happened to Masonry in Italy? How could something like this have happened at all???
Licio Gelli was born in 1919 and when 17 years old, volunteered for the fascist expeditionary force sent by Mussolini to Spain. Thereafter, he became a liaison officer with the army of the Third Reich. When the winds changed, he joined the ranks of the US Central Intelligence Agency where he apparently mixed business and personal interests becoming rich in the process. In March, 1981 a police raid on his residence led to the discovery of numerous documents from which it was ascertained that he worked in league with Roberto Calvi, the President of Banco Ambrosiano of Milan already in prison accused of illicit export of capital. One of Gelli's protégés was Michele Sindona, a banker connected with Onorata Societŕ, in other words, the Mafia, which however had not prevented him from managing the funds of the Vatican and embezzling several billion liras. Sindona was able to escape to the US where he was apprehended and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for fraudulent bankruptcy. (An inspector who had been making inquiries about him was mysteriously killed.)
Gelli was Master of a Masonic Lodge by the name of Propaganda Due or P. 2. under the Grand Orient of Italy - a Grand Lodge in recognition with the UGLE and most other 'mainstream' Masonic grand lodges.
HOWEVER, here is where the story takes an interesting turn. The Lodge "Propaganda Due" was consecrated in 1895 but unfortunately, it suffered from the infiltration of both political and business elements (as some would argue is common throughout Italian organizations) to such a degree that
Masonic authorities felt obliged in 1976 to close the lodge (Decree No. 444 L.S. of June, 1976). Lucio Gelli who was its master was expelled from Freemasonry.
Gelli, however, kept the name of P. 2. alive and his office gathered lists of members who, of course at that time, were no longer regular Freemasons. Since Freemasonry had no legal existence in Italy there was no legal way of putting a stop to this usurpation of title or the evils it served to cover up.
(By way of political history of the times: in parliamentary elections in 1976 the Communists had won 35 percent of the vote, and by 1977 they were again permitted a voice in policymaking. Violence and lawlessness, which had plagued Italian society throughout the 1970s, took more extreme forms toward the end of the decade as terrorists attacked politicians, police, journalists, and businessmen.)
It's the Freemasons - again....
The extremist press of both right and left wing militant anti-Masonic elements - and especially the sensationalist press - took advantage of the general confusion of the public between regularly recognized Grand Orient Freemasonry and the illicit P-2 Lodge. They published faked photographs dating back to the time of Mussolini showing lodges that had been pillaged and a pamphlet appeared in the summer of 1981 with the statement that the attempt against the life of the Pope had been planned by the Craft as well as terrorist activities such as the bomb attack on the train Italicus and that on the Bologna railway station in which eighty persons were killed.
The government moved to appoint a commission to investigate the matter and, in a report of but 48 pages, compared P. 2. to the Ku Klux Klan emphasizing that secret societies were illegal. However, it did recognize that the Grand Orient of Italy was not a secret society.
For anti-Masons, the response was reflexive and harkened back to the worn-out fable of existence of secret higher-grade lodges. Cardinal Casaroli, Secretary of State to the Roman Catholic Church, was much nearer the mark when he replied to the questions of journalists by saying: "The Vatican has been robbed of 80 billion liras."
Persons of sense can easily recognize that Freemasonry cannot be held responsible for an organization which it banished yet which continued to function as a secret, pseudo-Masonic body within the context of Italian political intrigue, not unlike the many bogus pseudo-Masonic organizations which exist today. It is regrettable that the P. 2. incident stained Italian and - by extension - worldwide Freemasonry.
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