"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Monday, February 27, 2017

Brother Mike Segall Passes

LtoR: Mike Segall, Philippe Benhamou, a Dummy, and Michel Singer in Paris at Le Petit Chatelet 2006

How very odd that I just posted earlier this morning about Freemasonry in France. Brother John Worlein just passed along a message this evening that Illustrious Brother Michael Segall 33° in Paris has passed to the Eternal Lodge today. He was 84.

I'm just at that age now when friends have started passing away with enough regularity that I can't merely pass them off as rare tragedies that just come along every eight or ten years anymore. And it's a function of Freemasonry itself that many friends I first met when I joined 18 years ago who were already much older than I was at the time are now reaching the eighth and ninth decades when life becomes even less of a sure thing every day than previous years.

So strange. I had not heard from Mike for several years, but just this month I had been e-mailing back and forth with him. I sent him a note a week ago that he hadn't responded to, and I literally was in the middle of typing a follow up this evening just to make sure he had gotten it. Now I find out why.

I first encountered Mike, as so many others did, online. Some from Compuserve. I did on the Philalethes Society e-mail list in 1999. He was my first contact with the subject of European and French Freemasonry, and he was a prolific poster. He had forgotten more about Freemasonry than most of us will ever know. In those days, he and his lovely wife Odette were regular attendees at Masonic Week, and they made plenty of friends in person as well. Lots of those friends over the years would visit them if they traveled to Paris, and more than a few were entertained in their home near the Eiffel Tower. Many, many U.S. Masons took ideas that Mike and a small handful of others told us about practices there and introduced them into our lodges. In fact, those of us who wrote Laudable Pursuit and the nascent Traditional Observance/European Concept movement that was just starting to formulate then owed an enormous debt of gratitude to Mike and others whose names I will not mention here. I sadly will not because, as I discovered the hard way, there are European Brethren who still to this day can suffer professional and social consequences, merely for the cultural faux pas of being publicly outed as a Mason.

Mike was a member of the Grande Loge de France, which is not the obedience that UGLE and U.S. grand lodges recognize. In those days, many Masons on both sides of the Atlantic understood that the Masonic history of France was somewhat chaotic, but that the GLdF was easily as regular as the Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF), and with a far better pedigree. Because of our online friendships with Mike and others, a growing sentiment developed among U.S. Masons who were in their grand lines and headed to the East to push the recognition envelope and openly recognize both the GLNF and the GLdF. First to try was Terry Tilton in Minnesota in 2001, and he had much support among his own members. But the UGLE and almost a third of the GLs in the U.S. quickly ceased amity (or threatened to) with Minnesota over Terry's temerity to recognize two grand lodges simultaneously in France. It was the first big Masonic crisis I had ever seen since joining in 1998, and it involved my online friends.

When Roger VanGorden became Grand Master of Indiana in 2002, he found out Alice and I were planning a trip to Paris. He was sympathetic to Terry's position, and he asked me when I was in Paris to simply see for myself whether the GLdF's lodges were regular or not, and report back. I was given special dispensation to sit in Mike's "irregular" lodge, and he vouched for me that evening. I visited Loge La Roumanie Unie No. 717 in their grand lodge building in Paris.

Funny. Lodges are much the same wherever you go. They were short-handed that night, so they asked me if I would sit in the Treasurer chair, since I was Treasurer back home. I had to quickly scramble to manage to blurt out in my pidgin French, "Venerable Master, to the best of by knowledge, the books of the lodge are in order." Were there differences? Of course, there always are, everywhere you go. But everything I saw firsthand that night was perfectly regular in every way. 

Meanwhile, while I was playing with Masons that night, Mike's wife Odette had Alice packed into their Smart Car and took her on a terrifying, high-speed sightseeing trip all over the city that would have put an Italian cab driver to shame. They got a parking ticket at Sacré-Coeur. Odette snatched it off the windshield, shrugged with a proper "harrumph," and jammed it into the glove compartment, which was already overflowing with scores of others just like it.

Ultimately, the GLdF and America imbroglio melted down completely. Terry Tilton was compelled to give up his dream, Minnesota was immediately forgiven by the world for its terrible transgression, and U.S. Masonry quickly settled back into its sleepy complacence and ignorance again. But the friendships remained, and still remain. As do the memories. Alice and I have been back to Paris many times, and we enjoyed the occasional dinners with Mike and Odette, like the one in the photo above in 2006. I went over and met Philippe Benhamou, the co-author of the French version of Freemasons for Dummies, and Mike and Odette and Brother Michel Singer joined us that evening. And others.

Mike wrote under the pseudonym of Michel Saint-Gall, and his most popular work was the indispensable French reference book, "Dictionnaire du Rite Ecossais Ancien et Accepté" (Dictionary of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite), which illuminated the numerous Hebrew words, phrases and symbolism that appear in the Rite's rituals around the world, including Pike's.

Photo: Michel Singer

In his last email, he said, "We just celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary and things hold well together, even if we quarrel every other day. It works as an excellent cathartic, Odette has long stopped throwing plates at me, and then we do laugh a lot too. At and about most everything."

There are many other memories of Mike that I won't bore anyone but Alice with, or those who want to sit in a bar and reminisce sometime. But his death leaves a very big hole in my Masonic heart, and I suspect it will with others all around the world who knew him only electronically over the years. He touched more Masons in more ways neither he nor they would ever know. Mike brought Masonic light to many from a world that was dark to most of us, and that debt could never be repaid. His column is broken, and his brethren do indeed mourn.

Merci et au revoir, mon frère. Gémissons, gémissons, gémissons et espérons.

Tuesday 2/28/17:
Word comes that Michael suffered a pulmonary embolism which stopped his heart for 25 minutes. He never awoke. Odette has said he would never have accepted being trapped in his body as a vegetable, so perhaps this was its own sort of blessing.

Brother Michel Singer has informed us all via Facebook that Michael's funeral will be held at the funerarium of Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris on Thursday, March 9th, at 2 PM (1400). I can't think of a more fitting place for his Earthly remains to be returned from whence they came than this very special place where so many brilliant men have made their way before him. All are welcome to attend and make their final tribute. He is to be cremated. 

Additionally, I have Odette's e-mail address, which I will be happy to pass along privately, should you wish to contact her. Please send me a note at hodapp@aol.com

Photo: Jean-Laurent Turbet

France President Hollande To Visit Grand Orient Museum and HQ

The French press is all atwitter this morning (here's Le Figaro, for example). The current President of France, François Hollande, will visit a Masonic grand lodge as president for the first time since at least before WWII. Today, February 27th, he will spend an hour at the Rue Cadet headquarters of the Grand Orient de France (GOdF), the largest Masonic obedience in the country. The occasion is the 300th anniversary year of the official founding of the modern fraternity in London, and the GOdF is the location of Paris' magnificent Musee de Franc-Maconnerie (Museum of Freemasonry). So, this is a nice gesture, despite the political minefield he's wandering across. 

Depending on who's writing the headline, some are branding this visit as a shocking development. As in much of Europe, Freemasonry in France is under an enormous strain of public suspicion. Whenever a French news magazine or scandal sheet has slumping readership, a good, solid, lurid anti-Masonic cover story always plumps up sales, and they love to allege secret Masonic perfidy in the halls of the Elysee Palace. So, Hollande going deep in the heart o' Masonland is big headline stuff today. He's getting away with it because he's a lame duck anyway. His name is not on the ballot in the upcoming rounds of presidential run-offs and elections - after one term in office, he's had enough. So, he's not committing political suicide by doing this. 

The Museum is one of the largest of its kind in the world, is supported to some extent by France's intricate government cultural funding apparatus, and tells the story of the country's extremely diverse Masonic landscape. As a way of clarifying that diversity, I'll just say that representatives of 17 different Masonic obediences (what we would simply brand as grand lodges here) will be in attendance. The last time I was able to find any comparisons, between 20-25% of all French Freemasons are women. So, the Museum has a big and complicated story to try to explain, and it was to a large extent a cooperative effort with many of them. French Masons tend not to sling around accusations of "clandestine" and "bogus" at each other, and are usually pretty cordial, for a whole raft of historical reasons. 

The Grand Orient is not recognized by the UGLE, the US grand lodges, or the vast majority of the Anglo-Saxon descended Masonic world, but it's the largest by far in their country. Next in size is the Grande Loge de France (GLdF), which isn't recognized by many either. You have to go down to the third in size - the Grande Loge National Francais (GLNF) to get to the one the bulk of us are in amity with.

Hollande will have a ten minute private chat with the GOdF's Grand Master, Christophe Habat, a 20 minute walk through of the Museum itself, then give a 30 minute speech. The Grand Orient has never been shy of taking official public policy stands on political topics, and they have always been strong supporters of France's strict religious separation policy of laïcité - which is one of the big reasons why Freemasons have been and remain crossways with the Roman Catholic Church, who sees us all as the primary architects of France's extremely hard line secularism laws and policies. The Grand Orient really is kind of exactly what the Vatican accuses us all of, and they're in no hurry to figure out the differences between us. Anyway, there have been renewed battles politically in France regarding laïcité laws and policies over Islam, especially regarding public displays of religious symbols and clothing and much, much more, so Hollande's speech is expected to talk about that in what he thinks is friendly territory.

It should be interesting to see the headlines Tuesday morning. 

NOTE: For those who understand spoken French, the video of Hollande's address at the Museum can be seen HERE.

EDIT: Karen Kidd chided me over something that I needed to revise here. If you ever go to Paris, tell your traveling companion that she really, really WILL find the Museum interesting, and you're not just dragging her to some boring Mason thingie after coming halfway around the world. Unless, of course, she's a female Freemason, in which case, she might be asking at the docent's desk about coming to a meeting herself. 

The GOdF starting accepting female members (and visitors) into their lodges several years ago. Plus, intervisitation between obediences in France is pretty laissez-faire - they tend not to pester visitors much about their home lodge affiliation very closely. It's an attitude U.S. Masons in particular can't easily accept, that the French don't bandy around labels like "clandestine" and "bogus." They don't largely because of their experiences under the Nazi persecutions during the Occupation. When the Gestapo busted up Masonic lodges, they really didn't give a tinker's dam about trifles like "regularity." They simply arrested everybody in the place and confiscated the Secretary's records so they could find anybody who stayed home that night. After the war, Masons across Europe finally developed an informal feeling that "We're all in this boat together." They've lived through purges and national laws outlawing Masonry and personal persecutions under Mussolini, Franco, the Russian czars, Soviet regimes, the occasional kings who didn't join themselves, and others that make the Morgan period in the U.S. look like a walk in the park. When your life and freedom are on the line over you wearing an apron on Thursday nights, you tend to not really get in a lather over where somebody else got their charter.

Also note that if you ask very politely at the desk and explain that you or your spouse are Masons, they may take you upstairs and let you see one or more of their very beautiful lodge rooms, which are generally not open to visitors. Despite the exterior of the building looking like a foreign departures terminal at the CDG airport plopped in the middle of a quaint 19th century neighborhood, their lodge rooms on the inside appear quite old and have an enormous variety of decoration. The Lafayette Room is particularly memorable, but all are quite unique. 

Both Cadet and Le Peletier Metro stops are the same distance, about a 2 minute walk.

Here is an English language video translation of the visit.

Birmingham, AL's Historic 'Colored Masonic Temple' Made Part of National Monument: Seeks Restoration Funds

Just before the end of 2016, Birmingham, Alabama's historic Colored Masonic Temple, built by the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Alabama between 1922-24, was declared by the National Parks Service as a part of the History Birmingham Civil Rights District, a wide area of the city that encompasses many significant buildings in the same general area. The seven-story building at the corner of 17th Street N and 4th Avenue was a major landmark in the 1960s as the longtime headquarters of the NAACP and their legal team, a shelter for the period's famed Freedom Riders, as well as other businesses and facilities that were central to the city's black community. All along with being the home to the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge itself, Masonic lodges, appendant groups, and a 1,500 seat auditorium and ballroom. At the time it was built, according to their website, it was "At the time of its erection, the Temple Building was the largest and best equipped state-of-the-art luxurious building built by and paid for by Negroes in the entire world." 

Statistics are difficult to come by - the previous ones I can find are from back in 1992 when Alabama's Prince Hall membership stood at 30,822, with 593 lodges (their Eastern Star were just as impressive, with 30,474 members in 554 chapters). According to a report today, that number has paralleled almost all US grand lodges in proportion: according to the MWPH Grand Lodge's website, by 2013 they had dwindled to about 4,500 Masons in 318 lodges.

A long story highlighting the Colored Masonic Temple appeared Sunday on the AL.com website, written by Erin Edgemon - Historic Civil Rights Landmark Launches Fundraising Campaign.

The District designation will hopefully help attract new interest locally and nationally in helping the building's trustees in infusing much needed funds for stabilization and restoration, a problem so very common with our Temples all over the country. This one has fallen on especially hard times, and I can't determine from the article whether any lodges still reside amidst the crumbling plaster, peeling paint, and the occasional collapsed ceiling. It doesn't look likely, although it is possible the greatest damage is simply cosmetic.

From the article:

When the Colored Masonic Temple opened in downtown Birmingham in 1924, it was one of the only places African-Americans could walk in the front door and not have to move to the back.
For decades, the seven-story, Renaissance Revival building housed black professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and accountants. At one time, it housed a barbershop, a jeweler, a billiards room, NAACP offices and much more. The structure, located in the 4th Avenue Business District, hosted social events and meetings. Legends like Duke Ellington and Count Basie regularly performed in the 1,500 seat auditorium and grand ballroom.
The Masonic Temple, commissioned by the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free & Accepted Masons of Alabama, was a symbol of black prosperity in the segregated South. The building was also a major landmark in the Civil Rights Movement for housing the NAACP's legal team and sheltering Freedom Riders in 1961. The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth also organized protests and sit-ins there. 
Beginning in the early 1910s, The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Alabama began raising money, a whopping $650,000, to build the massive structure.
Now, more than 90 years after the Masonic Temple opened its doors, Birmingham's grand lodge needs to make magic again. The grand lodge is seeking to raise $10 million to $15 million to restore the building.
This time, though, the temple has the power of the National Park Service behind it.
The Colored Masonic Temple is part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. The monument also includes the A.G. Gaston Motel, the neighboring Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the 16th Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, St. Paul United Methodist Church and portions of the 4th Avenue Business District.
Corey Hawkins, who serves as the grand master of the grand lodge, said the group hired Community Concepts Agency to launch a capital fundraising campaign and is working with the city of Birmingham to secure other funding.
A GoFundMe campaign was launched on Saturday to help raise money for the first phase of the project. The goal is $50,000.
Birmingham City Councilor William Parker and other city officials worked with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to secure $600,000 in funding for asbestos and lead paint abatement.
"It sounds like a lot, but we do have faith that we can get some assistance," Hawkins said, of the amount of money that needs to be raised.
"We are hoping that because of the importance of the temple to the Civil Rights Movement, especially during Jim Crow times, it was a place where African-Americans could go and walk in the front door and not have to go in the back, and sit anywhere they wanted to in the building. If they sat in the balcony, it was by choice. It wasn't by demand.
"We are hoping that story gets out there and people remember ... that the Masonic Temple played a major role," he continued. "It was where a lot of the organizing was done (for the civil rights) marches and protests. It housed the NAACP, as a matter of fact the NAACP was the last to move out."
Noted civil rights attorney Arthur Shores, of the NAACP had his office in the Masonic Temple, Hawkins added.
The temple was also a place where acclaimed black entertainers came to perform, he said. 
Hawkins said the upcoming renovations will be the first for the temple. Despite that, he said the temple is in remarkable condition. The structure is sound, he said, but the building likely needs new plumbing and electrical wiring as well as extensive renovations to make the office and retail space more open and modern.
The grand lodge plans to restore the two-story grand ballroom and the office and retail space. In the adjoining parking lot, they plan to construct a parking garage with additional retail space on the ground floor.
Clark said the antique items left behind will be restored and displayed in the temple to celebrate the building "being a center for dentistry, surgery, medicine, music and law for blacks in the 1900s."
Hawkins said he knows the fundraising and restoration won't be easy, but he's up for the challenge.
"We know with God anything is possible," he said. "We are going to keep fighting."

Hawkins said he looking forward to the day when the Masons and sister organization, the Eastern Stars, can all gather at the temple for a ribbon cutting.
He said he wants to have a big celebration to "commemorate our forefathers, the dream they had by building this building when they did, and us being able to hold on to it and secure its existence for another 90 years."
Read the rest of the article HERE.

It should be noted that Alabama is one of the nine remaining states in the United States in which the predominantly white mainstream grand lodges and their predominantly black Prince Hall grand lodge counterparts still do not recognize each other. There are rumors that there may be a change to that situation very soon...

Sunday, February 26, 2017

William Moore Speaking at Kansas City AASR 3/30/2017

On Thursday, March 30th, 2017, the Kansas City chapter of the American Institute of Architects will be sponsoring a tour of the Valley of Kansas City's Scottish Rite Temple. The tour will be followed by a prsentation by professor and author William Moore, entitled 'Solomon's Temple in America: Masonic Architecture, Popular Culture, and Biblical Imagery 1865-1930.'

From the AIA Kansas City website:

Freemasonry was ubiquitous in the United States between 1865 and 1930. Because of the centrality of Solomon’s temple to the Masonic ritual, members represented it repeatedly in paintings, decorative arts, and architecture. Through analysis of works ranging from lithographs to mausoleums and from circus performances to church windows this lecture examines how Masonic conceptions of the temple permeated the nation during this period.

Don't miss your chance to see and hear about the detailed craftsmanship in this Kansas City landmark. Limited tour tickets available.

William Moore is an Associate Professor of American Material Culture at Boston University where he also serves as Director of the American & New England Studies Program and teaches in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. He holds degrees from Harvard College and Boston University and is currently first vice president of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, the premier national scholarly organization for the study of ordinary buildings and landscapes. He is the author of Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture and Masculine Archetypes. An American Studies scholar with fields of research including public history, American folk art, and the history of surfing, he is currently working on a manuscript examining the national fascination with the Shakers in the years between 1925 and 1965.

March 30, 2017
4:30p - 5:30p - Tour #1
5:00p - 6:00p - Drinks and Hors d'oeuvres
6:00p - 7:00p - Lecture
7:15p - 8:15p - Tour #2

Lecture + 4:30pm Tour - $15.00
Lecture + 7:15pm Tour - $15.00
Lecture Only - $10.00

The KC Scottish Rite is located at 1330 Linwood Blvd., Kansas City, Missouri. This event is open to the public.

The Valley's building has had a tumultuous history. The cornerstone was laid in 1928 and the Temple was opened in 1930. Just nine years later, tough financial times caught up with them and they were forced to sell it. They shared space in the Ivanhoe Masonic Temple for 18 years, then purchased and remodeled the former Temple B'Nai Jehudah synagogue on Flora Street. They sold that building in 1971, and through hard work, dedication, and the alignment of membership, finances, and the stars, they actually managed to do something almost unheard of in this fraternity: they bought their magnificent 1930 former home back again. 

Job's Daughters Adults Behaving Like Children

I REALLY don't want to touch this one with a ten foot pole, but I will mention it and let those with a vested concern handle it as they see fit.

Apparently, there is a growing mess going on internally within the ranks of the purported adults in the Job's Daughters International youth group. Someone called my attention to a long article on the Freemasonry Squared blog site posted earlier in the week, Trouble Stirring About in Job's Daughters International. Additionally, the ongoing drama is being played out in part on at least two Facebook pages, Occupy Job's Daughters and Jobie Truth

Much of the origin of the trouble seemed to turn around the organization's tight control of its trademarked logos and parents trying to create and sell products using them. Other Masonic-related organizations have occasionally done this (Amaranth and the White Shrine of Jerusalem both come to mind), but this time it's gone into the sausage grinder of the courts. 

Job's Daughters is so insistent about their exclusive trademark that their Constitution and Bylaws contain wording about it, and their policy even has its own entire web page devoted to the topic. They have an exclusive deal with a single supplier. That prevents any Bethel from independently creating any sort of crafts, cups, shirts, or any other tchotchkes with their logo on it without first formally requesting permission from the national office. That appears to have uncorked the initial genie and now the griping from the trenches on other topics is spilling out. Unfortunately, it's the girls who suffer the most from this kind of backbiting among their parents. According to one post I came across,
At every Supreme Session the girls continually say they want to have more input in Constitution, Bylaws, Ritual and selection of the adult leadership. No youth have a vote in the legislation or leadership of the organization and strategic planning is done entirely by adults.
More posts are alluding to a move underway to give the Daughters themselves an actual role in the decisions and rules that affect them for the first time in 97 years. If true, and if it really happens, that would ultimately be a good development. Youth groups of all types have generally suffered hardest at the hands the adults, whether it's Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or little league teams. This current wave of unrest may ultimately do some good internally. 

Job's was started in 1920, and is open to any young ladies between 10 and 20. According to its website, "Girls must have a Masonic relation or sponsor, or be related to a Majority Member to be eligible for membership."  Nevertheless, Freemasons hold positions on Job's Board of Trustees, the Executive Supreme Guardian Council, all Grand Guardian Councils and Bethel Guardian Councils, as well as attend many local Bethel meetings. Masons generously support their fundraisers and events.

Fortunately for Craft Freemasonry, no one owns the trademarked copyright to the square and compass symbol (although a specifically designed version can be in some instances). While that has permitted unscrupulous groups to misuse it over the years, lawsuits over it haven't been attempted for many decades. But when I was writing Freemasons For Dummies, the publisher and I ran afoul of some of these other Masonic related groups with such limitations. I had wanted to place a logo for each different one next to the explanatory sections in the book when I talked about a group, so people who encountered them could identify with whom they were associated. I had to fight just to be permitted to use tiny versions less than 1/2 inch tall collected onto a single chart, and even that was looked askance at by the attorneys. Larger individual versions were not permitted, specifically because Job's, Amaranth, and the White Shrine would not grant permission to the publisher.

All of that aside, if you actually read the entire Freemasonry Squared posting and the many events cited in it, this has gone far beyond just the topic of merchandise licensing now. The stories are starting to snowball from adults who have been shunned or prevented from participating at several levels of the organization in a variety of situations - many of whom were the most excited members themselves when they were younger. National and state leaders in volunteer organizations ignore these types of complaints at their peril, because treating such groups as a personal fiefdom and removing critics kills from within. Members - in this case, the Daughters themselves - don't have to come back next week or pay their dues in December. Youth groups in this country are shrinking in popularity anyway, and exponentially so in Masonic affiliated ones because of our own membership losses. Keep stabbing the most active and excited participants and you'll only create a sales force against you. When their friends ask about it, their answer will increasingly become, "Don't bother."

(Note: The photo above is of Bethel No. 8 of Caldwell, Idaho and is from a 2013 article on the Idaho Press Tribune website. It has NOTHING whatsoever to do with this particular story or controversy, and neither the girls depicted nor the adults involved in Bethel No. 8 are involved in any way. I simply used it because I thought it was a pleasant photo that is of a typical Job's Daughters gathering. So there.)

'Inside the Freemasons' Documentary to Air on Sky Network 4/17/17

Back in October, I reported that Britain's Sky 1 television network had worked in conjunction with the United Grand Lodge of England to create a five-part documentary about the 300th anniversary of the 1717 formation of the grand lodge in England, entitled Inside the Freemasons. Originally envisioned as a four-parter in one hour segments, when production wrapped, both UGLE and the producers felt there was enough footage and public interest that a fifth episode was warranted.

Well, Freemasonry Today has announced that the first episode will air on Monday, April 17th at 8PM on Sky 1.

What makes this program hopefully different, and less lurid and dodgy than previous ones over the years has been what is described as "unique and unprecedented access" and cooperation of UGLE and its lodges with the Emporium Productions team. John Hamill is now the director of special projects for the UGLE, which is also a very good sign. 

The show sounds like it will be a history lesson, a myth debunking, and an exploration of why 21st century men still want to join a 300+ year old fraternal organization that suffers from lots of public suspicion and derision in Britain in the first place. That may be the most important aspect of this program in the end, given the fraternity's challenges there.

Unfortunately, this isn't likely to air on BBC America (who seems to air more Star Trek than English television these days), and no U.S. or Canadian distribution of the program has been announced at this point.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Italian Government Attempting Anti-Masonic Actions...Again

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."
And added:
"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.
This is serious, this is to realize that prejudices remain despite the country's fascist past and despite the confirmed case law of the European Court of human rights on the freedom of private life, freedom of conscience, freedom of association and the secret of belonging.
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.
NameDate of FoundationWeb site
Grand Orient of Italy1805 GOI 
Serenissima Grande Lodge of the Rite Symbolism Italian1859 (joined the GOI in 1922 while maintaining a certain autonomy)SGLRSI
Grand Lodge of Italy F&AM1908 GLI
Italian Federation of Human Right1916DH
Grand Lodge C.A.M.E.A.1958CAMEA
United Grand Lodge of Italy1974
Grand Lodge of Italy of Universal Masonry1978
Grand Orient Italian of the Strict Observance1979
The Freemasons of Italy National Grand Lodge1979GLNI
Women's Grand Lodge of Italy1990GLFI 
Symbolic Order of the Egyptian Rite1992
Regular Grand Lodge of Italy1993GLRI
Grand Independent United Lodge of Italy2005GLUIA
Grand Italian Lodge of Ancient Observance2007GLIO 
Traditional Grand Lodge of Italy2011GLTI