Freemasonry is, perhaps, the most large-scale political organisation of the middle-class in every Western nation. The Grand Orient of Italy, a particularly powerful institution, is no exception. One important difference between the Grand Orient of Italy and the Grand Lodge of England the – mother lodge – is the existence in Italy of covered or secret lodges whose membership is unknown even to the council members of the Grand Orient, the ultimate masonic authority in Italy. The purpose of these secret lodges is to bring together into a single discreet body “brothers” who hold high public and private office and who wish to remain unknown to other (lesser) brethren while at the same time strengthening and extending a covert decision-making network within the organs of traditional power.
There are two secret lodges under the Grand Orient of Italy – “P1” and “P2” (P standing for Propaganda) both of which are hotbeds of corruption and reaction. “P1” – of lesser importance both generally and in the present context – came under the direct control of Lino Salvini, a doctor who was elected Grand Master of Italy’s masons in 1970. He immediately used his influence to involve the Masonic movement in a series of political and financial intrigues, including moves to sabotage the amalgamation of Italy’s three main trade unions, which eventually led to an investigation of his activities by the Grand Lodge of New York (the world’s most powerful lodge with 400,000 registered members) and the breaking off of relations with the Grand Orient of Italy by the Grand Lodges of Michigan, Texas and Indiana. Salvini’s manoeuvres against the Italian trade union movement had the financial backing of Fiat and Confindustria (the Italian employers’ organisation) to the tune of 80 to 90 million lire a year.
By far the most important of the two secret lodges was that controlled by Licio Gelli, an old-guard fascist from the Mussolini era who fled to Argentina following disclosures that he had been involved in the torture and murder of Italian partisans. Gelli was intimately involved with the regime of the Argentinian dictator Juan Peron (1947-54) and remained in Argentina for twenty years before returning to Italy with the position of honourary Argentine consul. (Witnesses claim to have seen Peron kneel at Gelli’s feet for reasons upon which one can only speculate.)
Initiated into masonry in 1964, Gelli became organising secretary for Lodge P2 and immediately set about restructuring it. Until Gelli came along P2 had been a lodge in decline; its membership consisted of middle-rank civil servants, junior officers and small businessmen. Within two years, through his vast international network of political, military and business contacts, particularly strong among the power elites of the Latin dictatorships, Gelli had more than doubled the lodge’s membership to 573, the majority from among the upper echelons of Italian and Argentinian public and private life. Jealous of the growing power of P2, which had acquired a reputation for complete discretion and obsessive anticommunism (with a membership which rocketed following the discovery and investigation into the “Rose of the Winds” conspiracy in 1974/5) the Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy, Lino Salvini, attempted to depose Gelli and replace him with a more compliant “brother”. He wrote an abrupt letter of dismissal to Gelli which concluded: “I find you sympathetic, but I am discharging you.” Salvini had sadly underestimated the power of his rival. Gelli made it quite clear to Salvini that unless he withdrew the dismissal notice he would have him in prison within half an hour. The threat was taken seriously. Not only was Gelli reinstated immediately, he was raised to the grade of “Worshipful Master”.
During the fraud investigation into Michele Sindona’s Banca Privata Italiana, a conduit for mafia, Vatican, fascist and secret service money, police searching Gelli’s villa discovered a list of 953 members of P2. The coded list included three cabinet ministers, thirty generals, eight admirals, including the head of the armed forces, the heads of two intelligence services as well as the civilian collator of intelligence, 43 MPs, police chiefs of Italy’s four main cities, the mayors of Brescia and Pavia and the editor of the influential Milan daily Corriere della Sera. Further investigation revealed a more detailed coded register indicating a membership of 2,400 “brothers” all powerful men in their own spheres contending to mould events to suit the national interest as perceived by the selfseeking power elite.
Solemn ex-communication by the Catholic Church for baptised believers who became freemasons has been revoked for some years now. Although the anathema still survives in canon law this too is undergoing revision, and the document from the Congregation for Doctrine and the Faith, together with a series of official pronouncements, have more or less cemented the peace between the Vatican and freemasonry.