In the 1980’s, a clandestine Italian Masonic lodge named Propaganda Due (P2) became the centre of a scandal, involving Italy’s second largest private bank (Banco Ambrosiano), the Mafia, the Vatican and a murder. P2 lodge was once a warranted lodge under the Grand Orient of Italy, which itself endured an arduous journey.
Before we discuss P2, let’s briefly examine Freemasonry in Italy from early times. Italy in these times was merely a geographical expression, it comprised many states which Masonic Historians treated individually. Freemasonry continued to grow in these states, beginning with the chartering of various private lodges by overseas Grand Lodges. The first Freemason’s Lodge was introduced into Florence, either in 1729 – Emmanuel Ribold – or 1733 – Robert Freke Gould, but both cite Florence as the location. However, it wasn’t long before an anti-Freemason tendency arose, as the last Grand Duke of the House of Medicis (Florence) issued an edict against Freemasonry, but as he died shortly afterwards the ban was short lived. But the freedom to resume was also short lived, as, in 1738 the Vatican issued a Papal Bull against membership of the fraternity, withdrawing its patronage and assistance. J G Findel believed the reason for this is that lodges formed at the port of Lavero comprised members with Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faith. Findel states that Pope Clement XII became suspicious of this and feared unbelief would be aided and abetted by this combination. We have heard of many other reasons, this does seem to fit in with some of them.
But the coming together in Masonic brotherhood was still occurring in this region where a Papal Bull outlawing Freemasonry was in place. ‘Inside these lodges were found men of different religious faiths and with conflicting political ideals and orientations marked by a common tolerance1.’ During this second period of Italian Freemasonry, since the Napoleonic period, the fraternity came under the influence of the Grand Orient of France and, it is believed that the formation of the Grand Orient of Italy (GOI) occurred during this time, around 1805. After the unification of Italy in 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi, who played an influential role in Italy’s unification, became a Grand Master of the GOI.
Whilst there is a lot more interesting history regarding Italian Freemasonry (incidentally the GOI is not recognised by the United Grand Lodge of England), we take ourselves forward now to 1925, the Facist Period. Mussolini wanted to silence the last bastion of freedom in the country so the GOI transmigrated to France. Freemasons were persecuted, sometimes killed and the locations of Lodges stormed and destroyed. Freemasonry virtually disappeared in Italy until the ending of WW2.
After the second world war, Freemasonry awoke everywhere in Italy, albeit in various groups throughout the land, finally coming together again under the GOI.
Then we arrive at the scandal of Propaganda Due (P2), which was originally chartered by the Grand Orient of Italy (date unknown) but had apparently been literally taken over by a ‘convent of businessmen’ since being joined by Lucio Gelli, an Italian financier, facist and embezzler, and at the centre of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal. Lucio Gelli soon became the Master of P2 (he was known as Il Maestro Venerabile), a position he apparently held for many years; in regular Freemasonry the maximum term a Master can rule is two years, after which reasons for a third year must be explained to Grand Lodge for permission.
Propaganda Due (P2) amounted to a parallel state, implicated directly or indirectly in most of the scandals, plots and acts of terrorism in the 1970’s and ’80’s. P2 evidently comprised top Italian military, police, intelligence officers, prominent bankers, businessmen, journalists, government officials and a handful of politicians (according to the Independent 3).
We refer now to the collapse of Banco Ambrosia and links to the Vatican and Mafia. The chairman of Banco Ambrosiano was Roberto Calvi, the man known as “God’s Banker” and also a member of P2. The bank had handled much of the Vatican’s financial affairs and Calvi worked closely with Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, head of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (Institute of Religious Works) (news.BBC.co.uk). Apparently the Vatican was a major shareholder of Banco Ambrosiano.
In 1978 the Central Bank of Italy published a report about the activities of Banco Ambrosiano, as billions of lire ($27 Million has been reported) had been transferred out of the country illegally. After a fully fledged investigation, Roberto Calvi, the bank’s chairman, was convicted in 1981. However, despite this conviction, he was able to remain the bank’s chairman.2
During this time Lucio Gelli was still the Master of P2, which, according to reports, had grown out of all proportion for a normal Masonic Lodge. Apparently, a list of members was found which numbered 962, a normal English Masonic Lodge might have 50 – 100 members, any higher then it is likely to split to form two smaller lodges, one may comprise members that have a particular interest in common. According to the Independent Newspaper (UK Based), in its heyday the Master Gelli would hold court three days a week at a hotel in Rome. The hotel had two entrances so arriving members would not meet those leaving. This clandestine Lodge gave Gelli a network of the highest levels (business networks are strictly forbidden in Freemasonry) providing information for Gelli to ‘dispense, trade and exploit.’ Facist Lucio Gelli developed a “Plan for Democratic Rebirth,” his idea for a new Italy, purged of ‘destructive left- wing influences.’
Two weeks prior to the bank’s collapse, Calvi wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II warning him that a collapse would have the most profound impact on the church. This letter apparently implied that officials inside both the bank and the Vatican were aware of what was really going on.2 Debts of up to $1.5 billion were discovered, including debts to the Mafia.
Roberto Calvi disappeared from his apartment in Rome on June 10 1982,2 just 5 days after contacting the Pope and, with false papers, he escaped to London. Evidently, on June 18 1982, after deciding to take a stroll along the north bank of the River Thames, Roberto Calvi was found hanging from scaffolding under Blackfriars Bridge. At the time it was believed that he had committed suicide (as he evidently had made a previous attempt). But on the night of his death (according to news.BBC.co.uk) he was actually strangled and then his body was taken by boat to Blackfriars Bridge, where it was hanged from a scaffold in a faked suicide.
Roberto Calvi was finally buried in the family cemetery in Milan. However, his body was exhumed in 1998 and it became clear that he could not have committed suicide (reasons not given by the BBC). After a fresh investigation charges were brought against five people, including Mafia boss Pippo Calo, who was at the time of exhumation, already serving two life sentences.
The intrigue surrounding P2, not at all Masonic, was, among other things, this major banking scandal where those involved were hiding under the good name of Freemasonry, which, when discovered, only leaves a stain on all of the good things that Freemasonry really stands for. Today (2020) Freemasonry has opening up to the world so scandals like these can no longer cause such disdain. Like many organisations, members of our fraternity can freely state whether they are members or not, but under EU laws, know as GDPR, organisations are prevented by law to disclose any private information.
A lodge of Freemasons, when not governed by a Grand Lodge, is often referred to as clandestine, which means secretive. This sounds quite strange as Freemasonry from the very beginning has been classed as a ‘secret society.’ The term ‘clandestine,’ is defined in Freemasonry as ‘a Lodge that assembles without the consent of a Grand Lodge, or, although legally constituted, is continuing to work after its charter has been revoked.’ Propaganda Due comes under the second category.
The Grand Orient of Italy was shaken by the events of P2 and the media assassination of everything Freemasonry that followed, despite the fact that the responsibilities belonged to one rogue lodge (P2). Propaganda Due was dissolved by the GOI in 1982 and it had dealt personally with Lucio Gelli by expelling him in 1981, well in advance of the magistrates court.1
Conspiracy theories abounded after the death of Roberto Calve and his subsequent exhumation. Speculation that the posing of the body and the use of Blackfriars Bridge were Masonic symbols,4 which, as a Freemason, I can find absolutely no connection whatsoever. Carlo Calvi (son)4 says: “I don’t subscribe to that theory. But I do believe there was a masonic element* to his death and I do believe the way he was killed was symbolic.
“I believe the killers were sending a message by killing him in public in the heart of the city. There was definitely something theatrical about it all, and the message was clearly worth the risk.”
*There was no ‘masonic element’ about this at all, Propaganda Due was simply NOT a Masonic Lodge, it had ceased to become this once Lucio Gelli became a member.
This is just part of the story of Propaganda Due, it is apparently far wider than that referred to above. There has also been much more written about the scandals referred to here, but very little, if any, written about P2 workings as a Masonic Lodge itself, and there is nothing in this article that relates P2 to anything resembling Freemasonry. Maybe it’s because, being clandestine, how could anyone have been able to enter and find out? (It would have taken a very brave investigative journalist). However, this does give an insight as to the extent that some will go in hiding their illicit activities behind the veil of secrecy that Freemasonry was forced into in the years leading up to, including and following WW2. This was caused by the persecution of Freemasons by nazi Germany and facist Italy during this period. However, in regular Freemasonry today this type of activity would be extremely difficult to hide as, since 2017, the 300th anniversary of the founding of the first recognised Grand Lodge in London, Freemasonry has ‘opened up.’ Today the United Grand Lodge of England is divided into Provincial Grand Lodges, whose members regularly make official visits to Private Lodges and, in Hampshire and Isle of Wight, the Provincial Grand Master will just turn up unannounced (now called ninja visits) to present an honour or gift to a chosen Freemason, no room for secrecy form our governing body.
These articles are written by W Bro Steve Froggatt PPJGD, current Chaplain of Neptune Lodge No 5150 EC. Steve was initiated into Freemasonry in 1986.They do not represent the view of any Grand/Provincial Grand Lodge.
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