The history of the Mafia and Freemasonry is fascinating because of the role that its members have played in world events. It’s a story that spans centuries, crosses oceans, and takes many twists and turns. The elites in politics, business, and criminal enterprise have met in brotherhood and secrecy behind the shield of Freemasonry, allowing corruption to flourish.
By geographical location, Freemasonry is divided into independent Orients and Lodges. No group or individual has authority over all Freemasons. Some Freemasonry bodies do not recognize one another.
According to Salvatore Lupo, (1) Freemasonry and the Mafia are similar in design and membership overlap. Both organizations share values such as humility, adherence to the rules, and respect for the hierarchy. The Mafia, like Freemasonry, is made up of local organizations that operate independently but share alliances and concerns with other families, or cosche.
Masonic membership has been considered a violation of Catholic values by the Catholic Church since its introduction to Sicily during the Napoleonic Wars. Pope Clement XII condemned Freemasonry as early as 1738, and membership is still grounds for excommunication. The Church claims that the fraternal organization teaches deism, a belief in a kind of Creator as Engineer of the Universe, which precludes concepts like grace, which in the Catholic sense refers to all assistance coming from God. Freemasonry requires its members to believe in a creator but does not specify what relationship they should have with such an entity, leaving membership open to a wide range of faiths from the organization’s perspective while they are unaware led to worship their Grand Architect of the Universe, which is Satan. According to legend, the Mafia began as a mutual aid society. Masons, like other fraternal organizations, take an oath of loyalty to help their fellow members. However, the Church encourages men to seek such assistance from God.
In Catholic countries, the Church vies for power with the state, especially during periods of liberal rule, when the Church and its clergy have limited roles. Even during the Bourbon period, land seizures from the Church benefited the mafia, who were positioned to rig auctions and had the capital to buy formerly Church-held land as it came onto the market. Liberal periods of rule following the Risorgimento were also associated with higher levels of political corruption. The lodge was a place where politicians, business leaders, and criminals could all meet on a level playing field, under neutral circumstances. Masons met publicly during periods of state repression, but under different names, such as the “Centro Sociologico Italiano.”
Yet, according to Salvatore Lupo, it was a vertical alignment of social classes, from high to low, that made the Mafia possible in western Sicily. Napoleon’s armies taught Sicilians the principles of the French Revolution at the turn of the nineteenth century. The Carbonari, or “charcoal burners,” were an Italian Freemason sect that emerged, the name referring to a now-illicit activity common among peasants of burning wood to make charcoal in the baron’s woods. Anti-Bourbon nobles from Sicily flocked to the Carbonari and were imprisoned for sedition.
Lupo writes, “According to a document dated 1818, the distinction between freemasonry and carboneria was the openness of the carboneria movement to the lower classes, to the ‘good craftsman, [to] the honest farmer,’ perhaps even to the ‘common riff-raff.’” The seditious barons shared their ideas in prison with the men they met, who spread the radical idea among other mafiosi. Pope Pius VII singled out the Carbonari for excommunication after they played a key role in the 1820-21 uprisings.
One of the Italian Carbonari, and a 33rd Degree Freemason, was Giuseppe Mazzini. By the 1830s, he had established Young Italy, a clandestine movement based on the principle of “Italian unification as a liberal republic.” Despite his use of the term “liberal,” Mazzini’s politics are on the far right of the political spectrum, according to most analyses. To use Lupo’s phrase, he advocated for “class collaboration,” or a vertical alignment of social classes, which made Mazzini “an enemy of both communism and capitalism.” (On several occasions, Karl Marx referred to Mazzini as a reactionary old assassin.)
Mazzini’s ideas influenced Vincenzo Bentivegna of Corleone, who began to spread his philosophy among other young people who, like him, were Carbonari children. Vincenzo converted the Marquis of Chiozi, Ferdinando Firmaturi, of Corleone’s only noble family at the time.Carbonaro was Don Giuseppe Catinella, who later represented the district in Palermo. Francesco Bentivegna, Vincenzo’s cousin and ardent Republican revolutionary, was one of his closest friends and advisors.
However, the 1848 revolution(2) was a failure. The mafia, who were initially supporters, switched sides and were rewarded with lucrative government contracts by the Bourbon king. By 1856, the Bentivegna brothers and the revolution they stood for had been betrayed, and the brothers themselves had been imprisoned or killed.
Giuseppe Garibaldi, another follower of Mazzini’s ideas, was admitted to Freemasonry in 1844 while in exile and used his networks of Freemasons and socialists, among others, to gain support for Italian unification. Garibaldi conquered Sicily in 1860, but, as Mazzini wrote, he no longer believed that popular insurgency was the only way to unite Italy. Instead, Garibaldi delegated the conquest of the Thousand to Piedmont, whom he saw as the only force capable of uniting Italy against foreign rule. Francis Marion Crawford gives credit to someone else. He writes in his nonfiction book, Rulers of the South, that “when the Mafia joined Garibaldi, the Bourbons fell.” (A third theory of Garibaldi’s success in Sicily attributes it to the saints of Corleone.)
The term “fascism” was first applied to political organizations on the Left. As in the parable, “fasci” are bundles of sticks. No one can break you if you band together like a bundle of sticks tied together. The Fasci Siciliani were a peasant labor organization similar to guilds of master craftsmen. During World War I, when Benito Mussolini founded the Fascist party in Italy, the term was twisted to serve Mazzini’s far-right political agenda.
Bernardino Verro was a Corleone native and early labor organizer. He hosted a labor conference in Corleone in the summer of 1893. That year, Verro joined the Fratuzzi, the local mafia, in order to “give teeth” to his labor unions. Their relationship was strained from the start, with Verro’s organizing directly contradicting the nobility’s concerns, which were protected by the Mafia. Verro was assassinated in November 1915, a year and a half after becoming Corleone’s first Socialist mayor. Carmelo lo Cascio, a “socialist carpenter” (no known blood relation, though he is related by marriage), took over as mayor. Despite a trial, there were no indictments for Verro’s murder.
Although both the Mafia and the Fascists were on the Right, they were ideologically opposed to one another. The Fascist regime in Italy was vehemently opposed to the Mafia (authoritarians despise competition) and nearly destroyed it during WWII. Hundreds of people fled Sicily to avoid arrest in the 1920s. Not only was the Mafia suppressed, but so was Freemasonry. The former became a dog whistle for the latter.Angelo di Carlo, later dubbed an architect of the Mafia in Sicily after WWII, fled to New York during the twenties purges. Shortly after his arrival, the Italian government accused him of murdering a Fascist for political reasons in Palermo. Rather than calling him a Mafia member, the Fascists refer to di Carlo as an opponent of Fascism and “a member of the Masonic fraternity.” Unless you’re keeping track of political alliances, this is a strange set of accusations.
The Mafia regained power after the Allies occupied Sicily during WWII because they were the only ones who “had no compromising dalliances with the Fascist regime.” In the early 1970s, Di Carlo became involved in a decades-long money laundering conspiracy that was uncovered during an investigation of Vito Ciancimino, a Corleone native and mayor of Palermo. At the time, the Fascists were back in power in Italy, planting bombs to scare the public away from the liberal philosophies that were spreading on college campuses. The government labeled di Carlo, who died in prison while awaiting trial in 1967, as an anarchist and a WWI deserter.
In 2016, the Italian government had stated that Masonic affiliation continues to provide criminals with networking contacts in all fields. In 2013, Father Alexander Lucie-Smith wrote in the Catholic Herald about the mafia in masonic organizations, which serve the same caution when applied to the state or even culture.
He wrote: “Italian masonry is strongly identified with big business and banking, and the powerful secretive elites that are supposed to be the ‘real’ government of the country. Masonry is also seen as strongly anti-clerical; thus a masonic lobby in the Vatican would be opposed to virtually everything the Church stands for, and a real enemy within.” (3) (4)
(1) Salvatore Lupo. History of the Mafia. Translated by Antony Shugaar. Columbia University Press, 2009.
(2) Silvia Bentivegna. La Rivoluzione del 1848-49. Accessed http://www.bentivegnanellastoria.it/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=352:la-rivoluzione-del-1848-49&Itemid=250 21 July 2015.
(3) Archived/deleted article: Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith. “Most of us would laugh at the idea of a masonic mafia at work in the Vatican. I’m not sure that we should.” Catholic Herald. Published 30 July 2013. Accessed at http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2013/07/30/most-of-us-would-laugh-at-the-idea-of-a-masonic-mafia-at-work-in-the-vatican-im-not-sure-that-we-should/