GLNF Grand Master Francois StifaniThe French magazine L'Express is reporting a major dispute within the Grande Loge Nationale Francaise, the French grand lodge most recognized outside of its borders. My rather free translation is below, or read the original here.
Freemasons Still in Rebellion - by Francois Koch
Thursday, March 25, 2010
The dispute never ends at the GLNF (National Grand Lodge of France). On Thursday, more than a thousand delegates from lodges made the trip to Paris to show their discontent.
The "Rebels of December 4," whose dispute is spreading beyond Paris and Tours, have prepared for this confrontation for several months. They accuse their Grand Master, Francois Stifani, of declining the examination of the accounts of the obedience by an independent auditor, and of offering his services to the President of the Republic [Sarkozy] and his government.
Out of 3,200 Venerable [Worshipful] Masters and Senior Wardens convened, nearly 1,850 brothers were present, whereas usually only a few hundred come. Because of the crowd, the meeting was not held in the Grand Temple on Rue Pisan, but in the Equinoxe Room of the Aquaboulevard. Even before the opening session of the Assembly, the atmosphere was heated, as security guards drove back dozens of the Brothers suspended by the Grand Master, in particular those from the principal site of the dispute, in Touraine.
In spite of the pressure, the "No" votes, by a show of hands, officially received at least 52 - 53% of the votes. However, the "rebels" estimate the votes against at approximately two thirds. They had appointed an officer of the High Court to verify the counting of the votes.
After the results of this dramatic turn of events, the Brothers rose while chanting, "Stifani Resign!" before singing the Marseillaise. The Grand Master agreed that the accounts of the [Grand Lodge], €17 million (about US$22.5 million), will be audited by an independent examiner, but refused to call into question the term of the Board of Directors, arguing that the issue was not on the agenda.
Although the protesters knew that the dissatisfaction of the 43,000 Brothers was underestimated by Francois Stifani, they did not expect such a disapproval, unprecedented in this obedience.
According to previous articles in L'Express, the Grand Lodge meeting last December was something of a free for all, when thirty brethren, led by 71 year old Claude Seiler, attempted to put a long list of questions about improprieties to the Grand Master from the floor, resulting in a walkout and a great gnashing of teeth. Since then, GM Stifani has expelled 24 brethren. The expulsion of Tourangeau Thierry Perrin, a 65-year old Provincial Grand Master of the Loire Valley has caused a major eruption, battled out loudly and publicly on blogs and internet sites.
GLNF brethren are hot about a number of topics. They demand an impartial audit of the books, as the above report stated. An 850 square foot Paris apartment costing €2.5 million (US$3.3 million) was recently purchased as a "venue more suitable and consistent with the current status of the grand lodge." Stifani said the new digs, several blocks away from the Grand Lodge's very large and modern multi-story building on Paris' north side in the 17th Arrondissement, were needed to receive "major players in civil society, politicians, intellectuals or religious, to the benefit of the reputation of our house." The rank and file strongly disagreed. And there is growing discontent over Stifani's cozying up to unsavory African leaders with murderous track records and criminal accusations against them. Stifani (and the other French obediences) have looked the other way at their personal histories, believing a Masonic head of state is a prestigious win for the fraternity, regardless of coups d'etat, tribal slaughters, or theft of national treasuries.
Stifani has hurled longstanding Masons from his committees, claiming they were attempting to stage palace coups, but some GLNF Masons believe he is leading the obedience down the wrong path. Freemasonry in France is dominated by three principal and competing grand lodges. The Grande Oriente de France is the largest, and is well connected politically. It is left-leaning, does not require belief in a Supreme Being, has recently allowed the initiation of women, and makes official public pronouncements about government and religious policies. The Grande Loge Nationale Francaise, on the other hand, is descended from English Freemasons in France after WWI. Like the majority of Anglo-derived Freemasonry, the GLNF has long followed the rule that politics and religion are not the business of lodges and grand lodges, until now. Stifani clearly wants his grand lodge to have the kind of influence (and President Nicolas Sarkozy's ear) that the Grande Oriente enjoys. He also seems to be especially steamed because he and Sarkozy are both on the Right politically (as opposed to the GO's former Grand Master, Alain Bauer on the Left).
Stifani has sought a more public image for the GLNF, opening some of its lodges to TV cameras, which caused some members no end of heartburn. Members were shown on TV giving the penal signs. African dignitaries were seen handing Stifani a lavish gift from Cartier. And he stated in a TV interview, "I have the onerous task of being a spiritual guide." Rebelling members agree it's onerous—they say his job description is not that of a guru. Author and editor John Sollis resigned from the GLNF and has taken his gripes public. His complaints, echoed by a growing and vociferous contingent, is that Stifani's methods are more suited to North Korea. Stifani clearly sees the competition with the Grand Orient and the smaller Grande loge de France (GLdF) as a blood sport, and has put great pressure on lodges to recruit new members - a common situation in the US, but unheard of before in France. In the 1980s, the GLNF was the smallest of the three GLs at work in France. Today, it claims some 42,000 members, and publicly claims that the Grande Oriente lies about its slightly larger membership, just to be able to say they are #1. True or not, the GO did manage to get a substantial government grant to finance its brand new rue de Cadet Museum. The museum is touted as the Museum of French Freemasonry, rendering the GLNF and the GLdF as little more than paté in the public eye.
It is entirely possible and even probable that the majority of members who are remaining silent are perfectly happy to see the GLNF grow in membership size, public awareness, influence with important figures, and everything else Grand Master Stifani has been achieving. I can't honestly say any of those things would be seen as especially heinous in the US.
In the end, Stifani holds all of the cards, since he is the only grand master of the three principal French obediences who can suspend or expel without trial.
Francmaconnerie Magazine Issues #2 & #3