It’s never too late. That was the spirit in which Spain’s freemasons held their recent annual assembly in Madrid, welcoming representatives of lodges from all over the world. The meeting came after a number of other major events organized by Spain’s Grand Lodge in recent months, all part of a bid by an organization that was once ferociously persecuted by General Francisco Franco to rebuild its reputation and establishes that it isn’t, and never has been, a danger to the country.
During his 40-year dictatorship, Franco who was a devout Catholic was fond of referring to the “Jewish-Masonic conspiracy,” even doing so in his final speech, given from the balcony of the Royal Palace in September 1975, less than two months before his death. With the dictator out of the way, Spain began its slow transition toward democracy, as political parties, labor unions, and religious movements were all legalized and civil rights restored. All except for the Freemasons, that is, who had to wait until 1979 to be legalized, and only then after the High Court had overruled the Interior Minis- try’s initial refusal to allow them to be registered.
A few weeks later, a Spanish bishop suspended a priest for being a Mason (and yet child-abusing priests are not!!), while the Catholic Church’s Infovaticana magazine accused the organization of a range of crimes, including murder. Spain’s Grand Lodge brushed off the incidents in a humorous article in its publication, El Oriente, pointing out that the founders of three of the world’s biggest car manufacturers – the Chrysler brothers, Henry Ford, and Andre Gustave Citro en – were all masons: “Criticism of the conspiracy is correct,” ran the article. “Do you want a real argument to feed anti-masonic feeling? Without Ford, the Chrysler brothers and Citro en, there would be no traffic jams.”
Nevertheless, some of Spain’s institutions are doing their bit to help restore the reputations of masons who suffered under Franco. In January, Madrid’s College of Lawyers rehabilitated the memory of 61 members
who were expelled in 1939. In the wake of Franco’s victory in the civil war that year, dozens of Freemasons, some of them well- known figures, were either exiled, imprisoned or, in some cases, shot. All masons in 1936-37 who had not escaped Nationalist areas were murdered and in 1940, the Craft was officially outlawed.
Which partly explains why Spain’s Senate this year invited members of the country’s Grand Lodge to take part in official acts as part of the United Nations’ International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, although it did so at the insistence of Isaac Querub, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, who had previously called on the upper house to invite Grand Master Oscar de Alfonso Ortega and the head of the Spanish masons’ Grand Council, Jesu s Gutie r- rez Morlote.
In fact, even some senior members of the Catholic Church are taking a more forgiving position. Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Papal College for Culture, recently published an article in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s daily newspaper, entitled “Dear Brothers in the Masons,” calling for dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Freemasons.
It has to be said, though, that in the four decades since Spain has returned to democracy, the Freemasons’ efforts to be accepted have met with mixed fortunes. At the most recent World Conference of Regular Masonic Grand Lodges, held in San Francisco in November 2015, Oscar de Alfonso Ortega told delegates: “Our country occupies a particular place in the history of persecution we have suffered, but that isn’t where the enigma lies. The masons who visit us, who take their status as such in their own country for granted, realize that democratic Spain has made no effort to restore the honor of this institution.” The theme of Spain’s Grand Lodge for 2016 is “Let your actions, not your words, speak for you.”
De Alfonso Ortega attended the San Francisco conference bearing an unusual responsibility: aside from representing Spanish masons, since last summer he has presided the Ibero-
American Masonic Confederation, one of the most important regional Masonic organizations in the world, with around 10,400 lodges in 25 countries and a combined membership of 350,000. “For Spanish masons, who number just 3,000, aside from being an honor [this responsibility] will help strengthen our Order here and internationally,” he says.
In 1958, at the Pardo Palace in the outskirts of Madrid (Franco’s official residence), two US senators, along with a high-ranking military man, are received by Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Their mission is to sound out the dictator about a possible visit by the then president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower- er. What kind of reception would he get? Franco is delighted at the prospect and begins expanding on the need to eradicate once and for all the Communist threat, and is willing to help the United States in its fight against the Soviet Union, hoping to win the support of the West in the process – after all, it had only been admitted to the United Nations in December 1955.
Carried away in his euphoria, Franco also declares that Freemasonry must also be done away with. At which point, one of the senators politely interrupts: “Sir, President Eisenhower is a Protestant, I’m a mason, and my colleague here in the Senate is Jewish. We would all be in jail if we lived in Spain.” The military man, Eu- gene Vidal, an old-school Yankee blueblood and head of aeronautics at West Point military academy, drove home the point with a certain degree of sarcasm: “No, no my dear sir, I’m also a Mason and I too would be shot here.”
Franco was reportedly livid, but the prospect of parading through the streets of the Spanish capital alongside the leader of the free world was too much to resist, and he kept his views on the freemasons to himself after that. Eisen- hower finally visited Spain in December 1959.
Of course, it was not just the masons who Franco felt threatened his vision of Spain: he had only just allowed the first Protestant churches to reopen, despite the vociferous opposition of the Catholic Church. By the late 1950s, a few Jewish families had also cautiously returned.
Some historians have wondered why Franco loathed the movement so much: some have speculated it might have been because his brother and father, both of whom he is said to have hated, were masons, and that he had been rejected by a lodge. The masons have always been associated with anti-clericalism and liberalism, both anathemas to Franco. What is beyond dispute is that in 1936, when he launched his uprising that led to the civil war, he made the 6,000 or so masons in Spain one of his prime targets. Once in pow- er, legislation was soon passed outlawing freemasonry, and some 18,000 trials were held that led to firing squads, long prison sentences, and exile, along with the seizure of all property belonging to anybody convict- ed of belonging to the freemasons.
After Franco died, there was arguably great- er resistance from Spain’s institutions to le- galizing the freemasons than there was to allowing the Communist Party to operate.
There was a time when the masons were both numerous and powerful in Spain. There were 151 masons among the 470 parliamen- tarians who made up the first legislature of the Second Republic in 1931. Little won- der that Franco described the Republic as a masonic operation. Six of the Second Repub- lic’s prime ministers were masons, among them Manuel Azan a, along with 20 ministers and 14 undersecretaries. A further 21 masons served as generals in the army.
Persecution of freemasons will continue to a greater or lesser degree. In the UK, it tends to be only the media who fancy a go if there is no real news. Depending who gets voted into some European countries, will see the future of some lodges under threat.
From the Nov 2018 edition of The Cross Keys, which is a free magazine distributed across the many countries in order to spread the good (and some times not so good) qualities of the Craft. All views are of individual brothers and not any organised body.
Editor: Bro. N. Grant Macleod PM of Lodge Houstoun St. Johnstone No. 242
PM of The Anchor Lodge of Research No.1814 Past Provincial Grand Secretary of the Province of
Proof Reader: Bro. Allan Stobo
PM of Lodge Houstoun St. Johnstone No. 242 Treasurer 242