The Enemy Within: Church, State, Freemasonry, and the Mafia

The Enemy Within: Church, State, Freemasonry, and the Mafia

How fascism moved from left to right, and the Mafia’s enduring relationship with Freemasonry.

The historic relationship between the Mafia and Freemasonry is a fascinating one, for the role that its members have taken in world events. It’s a story that unfolds over centuries, crosses oceans, and takes many turns. But once I started asking the internet about connections between Freemasonry and the Mafia, it wasn’t long before I was neck deep in conspiracy theories about shadow governments run by corrupt pagan cultists in high places. What is true about the relations among Church, state, Mafia, and Freemasonry?

Some connections—like those between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry—are discredited. But sometimes true stories get lumped in with those that can’t possibly be true. The Mafia and Freemasonry, although both secret organizations, are not centrally governed, making the “New World Order” under their totalitarian rule, a dystopian fantasy, not a reasonable conclusion based on the facts. What has been true through much of their shared history in Italy, is that Freemasonry has been a shield behind which the elites in politics, business, and criminal enterprise meet in brotherhood and secrecy, allowing corruption to flourish.

Freemasonry today distinguishes work in stone—operative masonry—from the culture that developed through lodges, known as speculative masonry. The organization we know today as Freemasonry is believed by most historians to have evolved out of medieval guilds of master stonemasons. The term “freemason” originally referred to the advanced, operative masonry skill to shape decorative stone. From the late 17th century, lodges of speculative Freemasons—men who studied the principles of organized, operating freemasons, and applied their philosophies in other aspects of their lives—began to organize in Scotland and England. By the early 18th century, leadership of the Freemasons in the UK became the domain of the nobility. At the same time, American colonial leaders including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were active Freemasons.

Freemasonry is organized into independent Orients and Lodges, by geographical location. No group or individual rules over all Freemasons. Some bodies within Freemasonry do not recognize one another. Propaganda Due (P2), for example, was a Masonic lodge operating under the Grand Orient of Italy from 1945-1976, when its charter was withdrawn. It continued to operate covertly until 1981. The banking scandal of Michele Sindona was linked with P2.

Instead, members share bonds forged by a common authoritarian culture, and mutual recognition of rules and values. Salvatore Lupo says Freemasonry and the Mafia are similar, both by design and membership overlap. Both organizations share values of humility, a respect for the rules, and for the hierarchy. Like Freemasonry, the Mafia is made up of local organizations that are independently run, but share alliances and concerns with other families, or cosci.

Since before Freemasonry’s introduction to Sicily during the Napoleonic wars, the Catholic Church has considered Masonic membership a violation of Catholic values. As early as 1738, Pope Clement XII denounced Freemasonry, and membership remains grounds for excommunication. The Church argues that the fraternal organization teaches deism, a belief in a kind of Creator as Engineer of the Universe, which precludes such concepts as grace, in the Catholic sense of all help coming from G-d. Freemasonry requires its membership to believe in a creator, but does not further specify what relationship people should have with such an entity, making membership open, from the organization’s perspective, to a wide array of faiths. The Mafia, at least in legend, began as a mutual aid society. Masons, too, swear an oath of loyalty to help fellow members. But the Church calls for men to seek such help from G-d.

In Catholic countries, the Church competes with the state for power, particularly in periods of liberal rule, when the Church and its clergy tend to have their roles limited. The land seizures from the Church by the state, even in the Bourbon period, 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 after the Risorgimento also correlated with greater levels of political corruption. The lodge was where politicians, business leaders, and criminals, all at the highest levels in their fields, could meet on a level playing ground, under neutral auspices. During periods of state repression, Masons met publicly, but under other names, such as the “Centro Sociologico Italiano.”

Yet it was a vertical alignment of social classes, from high to low, that Salvatore Lupo argues made the Mafia possible in western Sicily. At the turn of the 19th century, Sicilians learned the principles of the French Revolution from Napoleon’s armies. An Italian sect of Freemasons known as the Carbonari, or “charcoal burners,” emerged, the name a reference to a now-illicit activity common among peasants, of burning wood to make charcoal in the baron’s woods. Sicily’s anti-Bourbon nobles flocked to the Carbonari and found themselves 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.'” In prison, the seditious barons shared their ideas with the men they met there, who spread the radical idea among other mafiosi. The Carbonari were singled out for excommunication by Pope Pius VII after they played a key role in the uprisings of 1820-21.

Foto_di_Giuseppe_Mazzini_dal_Fondo_Comandini,_Biblioteca_Malatestiana
Giuseppe Mazzini

One of the Italian Carbonari, and a 33rd Degree Freemason, was Giuseppe Mazzini. By the 1830s, he had founded Young Italy, a secret movement organized around the principle of “Italian unification as a liberal republic.” Despite his use of the term “liberal,” by most analyses Mazzini’s politics are on the far right of the political spectrum. He called for “class collaboration,” a vertical alignment of social classes, to use Lupo’s phrase, that made Mazzini “an enemy of both communism and capitalism.” (Karl Marx, on more than one occasion, called Mazzini a reactionary old ass.)

Vincenzo Bentivegna of Corleone was influenced by Mazzini’s ideas, and began to spread his philosophy among other young people who were, like him, the children of Carbonari. The Marquis of Chiozi, Ferdinando Firmaturi, of the only noble family that lived in Corleone at this time, was converted by Vincenzo. Don Giuseppe Catinella, who would later represent the district in Palermo, was a Carbonaro. One of his close friends and advisors was Francesco Bentivegna, a cousin of Vincenzo’s, and an ardent Republican revolutionary.

However, the revolution of 1848 was not successful. The mafia, initially supporters, switched sides and were rewarded by the Bourbon king with lucrative government contracts. By 1856, the Bentivegna brothers, and the revolution they came to represent, had been betrayed, the brothers themselves imprisoned, or killed.

Another follower of Mazzini’s ideas, Giuseppe Garibaldi was inducted into 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 he no longer believed, as Mazzini wrote, that popular insurrection was the only way to unite Italy. Instead, Garibaldi handed the conquest of the Thousand to Piedmont, who he believed was the only force powerful enough to unite Italy against foreign rule. Francis Marion Crawford gives credit elsewhere. In his nonfictional account, Rulers of the South, he writes that “when the Mafia joined Garibaldi, the Bourbons fell.” (There is a third theory of Garibaldi’s success in Sicily, which credits the saints of Corleone.)

The term “fascism” was originally applied to organisations on the political Left. “Fasci” are bundles of sticks, like in the parable. Band together, like a bundle of sticks tied together, and no one can break you. The Fasci Siciliani was a peasant movement to organize labor, similar to the guilds of master tradesmen. The term was subverted to serve Mazzini’s far-right political agenda during World War I, when Benito Mussolini founded the Fascist party in Italy.

Bernardino Verro (my third cousin, three times removed) was an early labor organizer, and Corleone native. In the summer of 1893, he hosted a labor conference in Corleone. That was also the year Verro joined the Fratuzzi, the local mafia, to “give teeth” to his labor unions. Their relationship was strained from the start, with Verro’s organizing in direct opposition to the concerns of the nobility, which were protected by the Mafia. A year and a half after taking office as the first Socialist mayor of Corleone, Verro was killed, in November 1915. “Socialist carpenter” Carmelo lo Cascio (no known relation by blood, though he is by marriage) replaced him as mayor. Although there was a trial, there were no indictments for Verro’s murder.

Although the Mafia and the Fascists were both on the Right, politically, they were in opposition to one another. The Fascist regime in Italy was strongly opposed to the Mafia—authoritarians do not like competition—and nearly destroyed the organization during WWII. In the 1920s, hundreds fled Sicily to avoid arrest. Not only the Mafia, but Freemasonry was also suppressed. The latter became a dog whistle for the former. Angelo di Carlo, who is later called an architect of the Mafia in Sicily after WWII, went to New York during the purges of the Twenties. Shortly after his arrival, the Italian government accused him of the politically motivated murder of a Fascist in Palermo. Rather than call him a member of the Mafia, the Fascists call di Carlo an opponent of Fascism and “a member of the Masonic fraternity.” This is a strange set of accusations, unless you’re keeping track of political alliances.

When the Allies occupied Sicily during WWII, the Mafia regained power because they were the only ones who “had no compromising dalliances with the Fascist regime.” Di Carlo began his involvement in a decades-long money laundering conspiracy that was later discovered in an investigation of Vito Ciancimino, mayor of Corleone in the early 1970s. The Fascists were again in control of Italy at this time, planting bombs to frighten the public away from the liberal philosophies spreading on college campuses. The government called di Carlo, who died in prison awaiting trial in 1967, an anarchist and a deserter during WWI.

In recent years, the Italian government has voiced the opinion that Masonic affiliation continues to provide criminals with networking contacts in every field. In 2013, Father Alexander Lucie-Smith made some remarks in the Catholic Herald, about the mafia in masonic organizations, that serve the same caution when applied to the state, or even to the culture. “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,” Father Lucie-Smith writes. “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.”

 

Sources:

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.

Commissione Parlamentare d’inchiesta sul fenomeno della mafia e sulle altre associazioni criminali similari (CPA: Commissione Parlamentare Antimafia) Relazione sui Rapporti tra Mafia e Politica, Page 59, Roma, 1993.

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/ on 8 March 2016.

“Man Arrested Here in Italian Murder.” 19 August 1927 New York Evening Post accessed at [fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html Fultonhistory.com] 26 February 2016.

Salvatore Lupo. History of the Mafia. Translated by Antony Shugaar. Columbia University Press, 2009.

Peter T. Schneider and Jane Schneider. Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo. University of California Press, 2003.

“Wealthy Italian Arrested Here As Slayer Of Fascist.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, Friday, August 19, 1927 edition. Page 16. Accessed [http://www.fultonhistory.com online] 26 February 2016.

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The Ficuzza

The Ficuzza

The woods to the northeast of Corleone were a natural place to hide stolen cattle.

Corleone is a crossroads and an agricultural community. To the northeast of town is the Ficuzza, a huge forest that was also one of the King’s hunting preserves. Locals couldn’t legally hunt game, but they could gather firewood, wildcraft mushrooms, medicinal herbs, and fresh greens, and some men would make charcoal there. The revolutionary Carbonari (“charcoal burners”) of 1820 took their name from this activity that, with the enclosure of the commons, became illicit. The woods were also a natural place to hide stolen cattle.

Being an agricultural village in central Sicily, the main crops were beef and wheat. It follows, then that the principal criminal activities circa 1820 were cattle rustling and protection rackets. Landowners generally paid whatever was required to prevent their crops being burned or herded off and hidden. Having avoided these calamities, additional protection money was required to get the harvest safely to Palermo, to get it onto a ship in the port, and for the shipment to pass the gauntlet of pirates who hung around in the port. Just between its home village and Palermo, Sicilian products doubled in value, because of the great expense of transporting them.

Today, the woods of Ficuzza are the largest, protected forest in Sicily. Once covered with trees, the island lost most of its wooded areas to agriculture in classical times, with the foundations of the latifondi. In recent centuries, additional lands were cleared by short sighted landowners and managers, further shrinking the forest, eroding the soil, and causing rivers to silt up. The Ficuzza is not a proper forest, says one nature writer. The trees there are too widely spaced, and the prevailing species are not very tall. This makes these woods an ideal place to hide stolen cattle. (Or to hunt game, if you’re King Ferdinand.) Even in the 20th century, Dr. Navarra was involved in cattle theft, and used the Ficuzza for this purpose.

Palazzo Reale di Ficuzza
The Palazzo Reale di Ficuzza, King Ferdinand I’s hunting lodge, completed in 1810

Criminals with fierce enough reputations could eventually trade on their curriculum vitae for employment by large landowners, as field guards or gabelloti. One of the perks of these positions was protection from the police. A criminal band that evidently lacked these connections (at least until it was too late), was led by a man called Rapanzino. Given the quantity of manpower and time devoted to his band’s destruction, Rapanzino must have either failed to make powerful friends, or made an enemy of his protector.

Rapanzino was born Giuseppe Castro on 24 October 1811, the second of ten children. His family lived in the Porto Salvo district, in the southwest of the old città of Corleone. His ingiuria (a class of insulting nicknames endemic in Sicily) means “cropper” or “abductor,” and suggests that among his crimes were the theft of either cattle or men.

Stolen goods—and kidnapped people—would be hidden away until a family member or owner made contact with the abductors, usually through a middleman, or “mezrano,” to redeem them. One of my distant cousins, Luciano Castro (1807-1859), of unknown relation to Rapanzino, was a mezrano by profession. 

Not content simply to lead other men’s cattle into the forest, the armed band evidently roamed the province, committing robberies and murdering people. A bounty for Castro’s capture or killing is issued in September 1833, naming both Rapanzino and one of his leading associates, Puntillo.

Other members of Rapanzino’s gang were mainly from Corleone, with a handful from other villages in the province. Despite being wanted men in the fall of 1833, Rapanzino and several of his men appear in the Corleone Church census, taken the following January: the Palumbo brothers, Bernardo and Antonino, lived at home with their widowed mother; Giuseppe Castro, with his parents, his grandmother, and his brothers and sister. Another member, Paolo Jannazzo, appears in the same census, near the Palumbos, living with his wife. Paolo, born in 1809, is the son of the godparents of Antonino Palumbo, his band mate. Another member is probably a cousin of the Palumbos: Leoluca Mondello.

The same year as this census was taken, five men were reported to have escaped the Arsenal, the Bourbon prison in Palermo. Three of them were from Corleone, and members of Rapanzino’s gang.

In the ensuing police chase, Bernardo and Antonino were captured, and some say they were guillotined in Palermo in 1835, while others say the brothers escaped to Tunis. The remaining members are named in a March 1836 bounty. The search is led by the locally stationed police captain, Don Pietro lo Cascio. Not a corleonese himself, Don Pietro appears in the 1834 census, living in Corleone with his wife and two servants, a few doors away from the politician and Carbonaro, Don Giuseppe Catinella.

Giuseppe “Rapanzino” Castro and one of his associates, Leoluca Mondello, were both killed on the same day in July 1836. Police reports of their deaths describe the event as completing the destruction of Rapanzino’s band. The Church record of Giuseppe Castro’s death record calls him “Rapanzino.”

rapanzino-mondello-deaths
The death records of Giuseppe “Rapanzino” Castro and his associate, Leoluca Mondello

At least two members of Rapanzino’s gang have ties to my family through my fourth-great uncle, Stefano Cascio, and they are among the only survivors of the 1836 manhunt. Biagio Jannazzo died in 1861, after eighteen years of marriage to Rosalia Cascio, Stefano’s daughter. (His brother, Paolo’s fate is not known.) Another of Stefano’s daughters married a Sylvan guard, Vincenzo Maida, who was also the uncle of the Palumbo brothers.

Later in the century, Stefano’s son, Marco, and grandson and namesake, Stefano, were both landowners, a privilege that belonged almost exclusively to the nobility and the gabelloti. The younger Stefano was killed in 1893 at the Agricultural Society Casino, a known Mafia hangout.

According to the police record, most of Rapanzino’s band were captured or killed, in the summer of 1836.

 

Image credit: “Il bosco della Ficuzza ai piedi di Rocca Busambra” Di Utente:ramas7 – opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0