The Mafia without godfathers

The Mafia without godfathers

In a controlled study of Mafia marriages in Corleone, I found that Mafia members are historically more closely related to their brides than their non-mafiosi neighbors in Corleone. What are the implications, genetic and otherwise?

The rates of consanguinity among Corleone’s families, even its Mafia families, are not likely to represent an existential threat due to inbreeding. According to Cavalli-Sforza and his co-authors, nowhere in human civilization do we find sufficient rates of consanguineous marriage to threaten a population from pedigree collapse, even one as small and insular as Mafia families in Corleone. While the rate of consanguineous marriage approaches 50% in some populations today, in Sicily, it has not risen above ten percent. (Cavalli-Sforza 2004)

On the other hand, cousin marriage could represent a different kind of danger to a free society. Jonathan F. Shulz (2016) has shown that not only is consanguineous marriage highly significantly correlated with mafia activity, “cousin marriage is a highly significant and robust predictor of democracy.” Even controlling for a variety of other factors, including the year of onset of the Neolithic revolution, and duration of Church bans on consanguineous marriage, a ten percentage point higher rate of cousin marriage is associated with an approximately three points lower score on the Polity democracy index (a 21 point scale, from -10 to 10). This is equivalent to the difference between the “full” democracies of Italy and the United States (which both scored a “10” in 2015), and the more limited democracy found in countries like Bolivia, Kyrgystan, and Nigeria (which scored a “7” that year).

Another way of looking at it would be to compare the United States’ score in 2015, under Democratic President Barack Obama, and the current rating (2016) as a “Flawed Democracy” on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index under Republican Donald Trump, who won the electoral vote in November. (Data for 2016 are not yet available from Polity IV.)

The Mafia has cultivated an image of itself that is indivisible from Catholicism and Sicilian culture. One way the two institutions are allied, is in sharing authoritarian values—which is to say, undemocratic ones. The Church authors and then reinforces the religious values and rituals which bind together Sicilians from different families and towns, even those living halfway around the world. And it does so while at the same time, honoring the local: the daily miracle of transubstantiation, the vision, the miracle, the saint who lived close by. The Cursa Santu Luca, celebrating the anniversary of a miraculous retreat by Bourbon forces at Corleone, is one such local, religious celebration.

Another local ritual reinforced by the Church is the “inchino,” where the effigies of saints are made to curtsy or bow, by the confraternity members holding them, in front of the homes of honored families. Not infrequently in Italy, the honorees are at the top echelons of local mafias. When the San Giovann’Battista confraternity in Corleone conducted the inchino in front of the home of Toto Riina’s wife, Ninetta Bagarella, last year, the resulting investigation brought down the corrupt city government, and dissolved the city council.

Collusion between members of the Catholic Church and the Mafia in Sicily has existed, and been overlooked, for decades. Toto Riina was married by a priest in a Palermo church, while living as a fugitive. Rome’s position on organized crime began to change in 1993, when the Pope denounced the Mafia. In 2014, the Vatican declared that Mafia members are to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Yet this has not completely severed relations between Church and Mafia, as recent events in Corleone demonstrate.

Complicating these institutional associations are the most personal of connections, those among family members. The Catholic Church holds a monopoly on the sacraments that quite literally create Catholic families. Exercising its right to refuse the sacraments could strike a mortal blow to the organization whose own mythology centers the Catholic family. After all, what is the mafia without godfathers?

The recent objection of the archbishop in Monreale, to a known mafia associate standing as godfather to his niece, may be part of a growing movement to uphold the 2014 Vatican position against mafia activity. Giuseppe Salvatore “Salvo” Riina, the son of Toto Riina, has served an eight-year sentence for Mafia association. Yet last December, Salvo stood as godfather to his niece, an honor Archbishop of Monreale Michele Pennisi has since publicly opposed. It is well understood by Catholics that godparents are obliged to uphold the faith and set an example for their godchildren, facts the archbishop repeated in his objections. “I am not aware that the young man has ever expressed words of repentance for his conduct,” Pennisi says of Riina.

People marry in for reasons other than a lack of opportunity to marry outside one’s extended family. And people who marry their close kin at higher than average rates, do not do so randomly. People who marry their cousins do so not in ignorance, but in concert with their own values, and they do so for legitimate social and economic reasons, such as to preserve inherited wealth, strengthen family ties, and increase one’s personal prospects. One reason for marrying in that cannot be casually discounted, is to preserve power accumulated through generations of mafia activity.

Marriages between close relations are not normally permitted by the Church. For first and second cousins to marry in Sicily requires dispensation from the local archbishop. In the past, dispensations were granted whenever possible: the lack of a dowry, the danger of unmarried cohabitation, and even the risk of social embarrassment to a family at having to break an engagement, were all considered valid reasons to permit a marriage that would otherwise be prohibited due to consanguinity. Unlike the selection of a godparent, which is approved by the local priests, the dispensation process puts each archbishop in position to decide, on a case by case basis, whether a marriage might go forward. While dowry is, hopefully, no longer a deciding factor in granting dispensations to marry, perhaps mafia association will soon become one.

 

Cited:

  1. Colleen Barry. “Italy: Mafia stronghold of Corleone has new ‘godfather’ saga.” Published 2 February 2017. Accessed 3 February 2017 at http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Italy-Mafia-stronghold-of-Corleone-has-new-10903127.php
  2. Colleen Barry. “Italy: Mafia stronghold of Corleone has new ‘godfather’ saga.” Published and accessed 5 February 2017 at http://siouxcityjournal.com/news/weird-news/italy-mafia-stronghold-of-corleone-has-new-godfather-saga/article_6265cfb9-8275-5823-8249-6f1cf9867f69.html
  3. Jonathan F. Schulz. The Churches’ Bans on Consanguineous Marriages, Kin-Networks and Democracy (December 14, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2877828 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2877828
  4. Alexander Stille. The Pope Excommunicates the Mafia, Finally. Published 24 June 2014. Accessed 8 February 2017 at http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-pope-excommunicates-the-mafia-finally

 

Image credit: Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464). “Baptism, Confirmation, Penance.”

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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.