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Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Florida vs. Paraguay: Masonic Regularity, Recognition, Muddles and Mayhem



by Christopher Hodapp

Ever wonder what "regular, recognized" means when it comes to the many grand lodges of Masons all over the world, and just who decides such things? 

I'll warn you here at the outset: this is one of those Masonic stories that will make your eyes glaze over. It has little or nothing to do with most everyday Masons all over the world, and it's rooted in Freemasonry's three-century-old methods and policies that grew out of 18th century European government and religious diplomatic traditions. This story will be like reading all the supporting documents and commentary of the International High Seas Biodiversity Treaty negotiations, without nearly as many punchlines.

The Requirements of Regularity and Recognition

The majority of regular grand lodges extend or withdraw relations with foreign jurisdictions based on a set of conditions: 
  • that their constituent lodges admit men only; 
  • that their lodges work in view of a volume of sacred law and under the auspices of the Grand Architect of the Universe; 
  • that discussion of religion and politics are prohibited in their lodge meetings;
  • that the grand lodge has legitimately and provably descended in some way from the earliest of grand lodges in England or Scotland; 
  • that the grand lodge is considered completely sovereign over its members and territory, sharing it only by treaty with other regular grand lodges (such as in state grand lodges that coexist with Prince Hall Affiliated grand lodges in the U.S.; or when English, Scottish and Irish lodges are still at work in what were once the far-flung colonial outposts of the British Empire in Asia, Africa or the Middle East). This is referred to as "exclusive territorial jurisdiction."
To that end, the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America's (COGMMNA) Commission on Recognition meets every February to investigate Masonic regularity of various grand lodges around the world, or to decipher various controversies of regularity and recognition, in order to issue a report that attempts to determine these sometimes very complicated matters of who's legit and who isn't.

But – 

The COGMMNA Commission on Recognition does not - and CANNOT - force anybody’s grand lodge to recognize, “de-recognize” or just ignore another jurisdiction when it comes to permitting its members to visit foreign lodges. That decision is completely up to every individual grand lodge or grand orient on its own. But let’s not pretend there isn’t such a thing as Masonic peer pressure. A diplomatic problem can arise when a grand lodge (or a group of them) decides to depart from the majority of opinions within its Masonic region and recognize what the others regard as “the wrong grand lodge.” 

Which brings me casually moseying around the barnyard over to Florida.

Florida and the CMI

The Grand Lodge of Florida’s announcement last week that it was withdrawing Masonic relations from 11 different grand lodges is rooted in a disagreement with a large federation of Masonic jurisdictions known as the Confederación Masónica Interamericana, or CMI (the Inter-American Masonic Confederation). In fact, those 11 are only the latest ones Florida has cut off – the total is 13 because they had already severed relations with grand lodges in Argentina and Uruguay a couple of months before. (Click the letters below to enlarge.)

 

The CMI is a cooperative association made up of 94 participating grand lodges, and was established back in 1947. CMI acts in a similar way as COGMMNA, with its membership generally comprising grand lodges and grand orients deemed to be Masonically “regular” by the vast majority of the Masons in the world. CMI's concentration is mostly in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, but there are a handful of CMI-member grand lodges outside of those regions, like the Grand Lodges of New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, plus Spain, Portugal, the Grand Orient of Italy, and France's Grande Loge Nationale Française (you can see the list of CMI’s 94 members HERE). 

Two Paraguay Grand Lodges Walk Into A Bar...

Bear in mind that there are many conflicting (mostly unrecognized and often irregular) grand lodges also at work in the Central and South America which are NOT members of the CMI, and this is the part of the story when Paraguay suddenly bursts into the bar and Florida says, “Order me another frozen banana daiquiri while I go handle this.”

It seems that this whole sticky pickle began after the Grand Lodge of Florida recognized a different Masonic grand lodge in the country of Paraguay than either CMI or a growing number of mainstream, regular grand lodges around the world do. Florida 
maintains amity with the older Gran Logia Simbólica del Paraguay, while CMI members mostly recognize the newer Gran Logia Simbólica del Paraguay, which was established in 2006 after a schism occurred in Paraguayan Masonry. 

Seal/logo of the "newer" Symbolic GL of Paraguay
features the date of 1869

Unfortunately for those of us who have a tough time keeping them straight, both grand lodges have exactly the same name, and both are headquartered in the city of Asunción. This fight first started back in 2006, and it's been a big problem for Paraguay Masons ever since. 

The newer grand lodge had as its founding Grand Master, MW Bro Euclides Acevedo, and this is how many articles and reports often distinguish between the two groups – by simply mentioning Acevedo's name. Its seal features the date of 1869.

Photo:Gerardo Malvetti

The address of this grand lodge is Avda. de la Victoria, No. 690 esq Lopez Moreira, Asunción (photo above). 



Seal of the "older" Symbolic Grand Lodge of Paraguay
features the date of 1895


The "older" Gran Logia Simbólica del Paraguay features the date of 1895 on its seal. Go figure. I'm also told that the older organization is sometimes referred to as the "centennial" grand lodge, as it celebrated the 100th anniversary of its 1923 REfounding in 2023. Image below is their headquarters on Palma Street in Ascunción.

Home of the older "Centennial" Grand Lodge. Photo: Gustavo Machado  

This mess has also been a thorny issue for the COGMMNA's Commission on Recognition for almost 20 years. And woe betide outsiders who attempt to make heads or tails of the whole mess.

CMI Tries To Make Order From Chaos




The Confederación Masónica Interamericana is a big organization, and it’s divided into several regional zones. CMI’s Zone 6 (which largely covers South America, plus Spain and Portugal) issued a declaration that the "newer" Symbolic Grand Lodge of Paraguay (whose current Grand Master is José Miguel Fernandez Zacur) is the one true “regular” one, and "urged" (not demanded or ordered, but "urged") all of the jurisdictions within their conference to agree with them. But Florida disagreed with with CMI's declaration that the "newer" was the legitimately regular one to be recognized. (Click the Spanish-language documents below to enlarge)

 



Florida isn't even a member of the Confederation, so why they chose to meddle in CMI's business is anyone's guess. But Florida has declared that any grand lodge signing the CMI's Zone 6 agreement to abide by its conclusion was allowing an outside organization to impose rules and shove them around. That smelled like violation of Masonic sovereignty to Florida: ergo, those grand lodges are obviously NOT sovereign if they let some outside group of buttinskys tell them who to recognize or not recognize; ergo, if said grand lodges AREN’T sovereign anymore, that means THEY obviously AREN’T regular anymore; ergo, Florida issued a demand that all the CMI signatories with whom they were in amity explain their wimpy, weak-sister genuflecting to Florida’s satisfaction, or face the loss of Masonic relations between them. And that’s what resulted in the current list of 13 grand lodges from whom Florida has now withdrawn relations over this issue (the eleven named last week, plus Argentina and Uruguay).

It might be a perfectly legitimate line of logical thinking Florida followed, but as we all know, grand lodges and grand masters have the power to do things that they shouldn’t necessarily exercise when it comes to the practicality of Masonry's altruistic notions of harmony among brethren. Unleashing lightening bolts from their terrible swift swords ofttimes wind up causing more harm than good among the rank and file brethren, along with creating very bad publicity for what is supposed to be an organization dedicated to worldwide brotherhood and improvement of the human condition. Florida hasn't just cut off visitations between their own members and Masons from the now-shunned grand lodges when they visit the Sunshine State; they are also demanding that any Florida Masons who hold joint memberships in any of the shunned jurisdictions must resign from one or the other.

Florida’s Past Grand Master from 2012, RW Jorge Aladro, seems to be at the center of this situation, and it should come as no surprise that he also pops up as this year’s chairman of the COGMMNA’s Commission on Recognition, which convenes in February – likely why Florida’s deadline for responses to its ultimatum was timed for late January. He’s also the chairman of Florida’s committee on foreign fraternal relations. (Aladro may be best remembered by the Masonic community as the grand master who passed edicts during 2012 forbidding Wiccans and pagans from Masonic membership in Florida lodges, and essentially declaring that all Florida Masons must be monotheistic.)


What in hell goes on in Paraguay?

Back in 2005 or so, the Supreme Council of the AASR in Paraguay created an internal uproar when it expelled the sitting Grand Master of Paraguay, which kicked in a rule within the Grand Lodge that expulsion from one Masonic body meant expulsion from all. Effectively, the Supreme Council's action forced the removal of the Grand Master from his elected office, which looked and smelled to the Masonic world like the appendant body was really in charge of a subservient and compliant grand lodge.

Let me quote the COGMMNA's Commission on Recognition's report from 2008:

A split has developed in the Grand Lodge of Paraguay. A group of dissidents have now proclaimed themselves to be the Grand Lodge Symbolic of Paraguay. After a questionable investigation, the Interamerican Masonic Confederation has declared this group headed by Mendoza Unzain to be legitimate. This was an unusual act since the by-laws of the CMI prohibits the interference in the internal affairs of a Grand Lodge. This ruling is being contested by the existing [older] Grand Lodge of Paraguay, but they have not allowed [us] to see the report of the investigation, or to offer a response. Nemecio Lichi was legally elected to be the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Paraguay, and the Commission is of the opinion that this Grand Lodge is still the only Grand Lodge in Paraguay that meets the standards for recognition.

But by 2013, the United Grand Lodge of England had recognized the "newer" Gran Logia Simbólica del Paraguay , which also had the support of many CMI members. By 2014, the COGMMNA Commission on Recognition's report came to the conclusion that the newer body was now the "only Grand Lodge in Paraguay that meets the standards for recognition."

In 2016, the Commission reiterated its conclusion that the newer GL was considered to be the regular one. Because the two groups have exactly the same name, the Commission reported specifically that "The current Grand Master of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Paraguay [in 2022] is M∴W∴ Bro. Edgar Sanchez Caballero. The address of that grand lodge is: Gran Logia Simbolica Del Paraguay Avda. de la Victoria No 690 esq Lopez Moreira Asuncion - Paraguay." 

(BTW, their most recently elected Grand Master who will serve 2022-2026 is now MW José Miguel Fernández Zacur.)

The Commission on Recognition's report from 2018 enlarged upon the origin story of the newer Paraguayan grand lodge a bit, but threw their hands up over the mess, recommending a treaty or some other solution to jointly share the territory, whether they got along with each other or not:

In 2005, the Grand Master of Paraguay was suspended by an appendant body [Paraguay's Supreme Council of the AASR]. Pursuant to treaty, this lead to his suspension from symbolic or craft Masonry. In 2006, there was a schism in Paraguayan Masonry. For a number of years, attempts were made to reconcile the two grand lodges. In 2014, when such efforts repeatedly failed, this Commission found that the newer grand Lodge met the standards for recognition. This was, in part, because the prior Grand Lodge did not demonstrate sovereignty, as an appendant body functionally controlled the craft. The Commission has now been presented evidence that in 2017, a new treaty was entered into with the appendant body, preserving the sovereignty of the craft. While both grand lodges appear to be practicing regular Freemasonry, before the Commission makes further recommendations, we encourage both parties to discuss a treaty to share the jurisdiction regardless of whether they formally recognize one another Masonically.

As a result, I believe just over a dozen U.S. grand lodges recognize ANY grand lodge of Masons in Paraguay at all. The rest are sitting back and waiting for some sanity to prevail. But Florida is, to my knowledge, the ONLY one sticking with the older organization. Meanwhile, the newer Symbolic Grand Lodge has posted a packet of online documents that demonstrate the worldwide support they have continued to receive over the years. They can be seen HERE.

Of course, the really ironic bit of unintentional pratfall comedy here is that the schism with the original Symbolic Grand Lodge of Paraguay began 20 years ago over the accusation that an outside group (Paraguay's Supreme Council of the AASR) was calling the shots for them – proof that they were no longer a sovereign grand lodge that governed itself. And now, Florida has split from these thirteen GLs in CMI because Florida questions their sovereignty by agreeing to CMI's definition of regularity. 

To finally wrap this up, below is the official English-language response to Florida issued on Saturday by Paraguay from 2022-26 Grand Master Zacur. (Click to enlarge)

  

This episode is the sort of thing your own grand lodge's Foreign Fraternal Relations Committee has to peer into every year, and their report is usually buried deep in the proceedings of your annual meeting – just in case some grand master gets it in his head to appoint you to that committee...



8 comments:

  1. There are over a dozen places in this report where a word or words have been redacted (blacked out), making it difficult to decipher the meaning of a sentence. Why was this done?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Christopher L. HodappThu Feb 01, 05:48:00 PM 2024

      Do you mean blacked out in the text of this story? Hmm. Not seeing it on mine but I'll look on a couple of other browsers. If it’s really blacked out and not just mis-coded, I’ll try to fix it.

      Delete
  2. but..... if Florida GL says "That smelled like violation of Masonic sovereignty to Florida: ergo, those grand lodges are obviously NOT sovereign if they let some outside group of buttinskys tell them who to recognize or not recognize" Then isn't it the same if they listen to the FL GL and do what THEY say. Its that old joke of "you should not do what people tell you. Except me, you have to listen to me" This is amazing in how little sense it makes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not the same thing. They don't have to pay Florida a lick of attention. It's possibly inconvenient for their members if they take that course, but they can continue to do Masonry their way regardless of Florida's opinion.

      Chris is right, though, the surrender of sovereignty in the first place made that Grand Lodge irregular. But they have a bigger problem now in that there are two grand lodges in one country that both claim to be the legitimate grand lodge in that country. They need to do something about that.

      Nathan

      Delete
    2. But wait... if Florida had to derecognize these 13 grand lodges for agreeing with the CMI suggestion... didn't that mean that CMI *also* controls Florida by forcing that derecognition?

      Delete
  3. How this sort of complex situation is handled by an individual brother varies from one grand lodge to another. For example, if he discovers he is sitting in a lodge with someone from an irregular jurisdiction -- irregular that is from the perspective of his grand lodge -- in some jurisdictions he is instructed to unobtrusively leave. If he notes such alleged rregulars have already entered by looking at the tyler's book he should not enter. Of course .if life memberships are involved in cases where resignation is now demanded, then there is the complication of a serious financial loss.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is not masonry, but petty politics conducted by a few obscure apparatchiks of a Grand Lodge that seems not to have understood that the Monroe Doctrine belongs to the past. Let the Grand Lodge of Florida look after its lodges and its members instead of interfering in the affairs of Latin American masonry. In this way, it will be doing a useful job.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Amen! In my 43 years is a mason, I have seen more petty politics and vicious fights for non-paying jobs than I could possibly believe. And yet, I have still found a greater percentage of Good Men in Freemasonry than in any other group I have been associated with.

    ReplyDelete

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