Over at the Guardian, Nick Cohen highlights an intriguing detail in Pope Francis’s “who am I to judge” remark about homosexuals:
Journalists wanted to know whether a “gay lobby” in the Vatican had covered up Ricca’s alleged sins. “If a gay person is in eager search of God, who am I to judge them?” the pope replied. “The Catholic church teaches that gay people should not be discriminated against.”
This sounds a start: a small start, a long overdue start, but a start nevertheless. But consider the sequel. “Being gay is not the problem,” the pope continued, “lobbying is the problem and this goes for any type of lobby… political lobbies, masonic lobbies, all lobbies.” (“Lobby dei politici, lobby dei massoni, tante lobby.”)
And with that casual phrase, the pope signalled his fealty to the deep strain of reaction in European history and hardly anyone noticed. Few Anglo-Saxon readers understand that prejudice against freemasons is the founding conspiracy theory of the far right. It saw the machinations of a society that began among harmless Scottish craftsmen in the 15th century as responsible for liberalism, the enlightenment, the rights of man… everything it hated.
In the 1790s, an abbé named Augustin Barruel, an alarming combination of Dan Brown and David Icke, looked at the American and French revolutions and concluded that the masses could have overthrown divinely ordained monarchs and the holy mother church only if they were the dupes of an international conspiracy of freemasons.
The masons were not middle-aged men in fancy dress, but the descendants of the Knights Templar, who went underground in the Middle Ages and swore to avenge themselves on the church and monarchy that had persecuted them.
It sounded mad. Indeed it was mad. But a conspiracy theory that says that human rights are a sham behind which a sinister secret society manipulates the world was too useful to waste. Successive popes issued bulls against it. Pius IX included freemasonry along with socialism, liberalism and freedom of conscience as evils the faithful must fight in his Syllabus of Errors of 1864.
The antisemites and fascists of the early 20th century added that the masons were in league with the Jews. Franco and Mussolini persecuted them. The Nazis made freemasons wear red triangles and murdered them by the thousand.
Do not think these foul ideas are dead. Radical Islam echoes the European far-right’s ravings. (The Hamas charter says the freemasons are in an alliance with the Jews and – brace yourselves – the Rotary Club and the Lions as well.) Like Hamas, Luigi Negri, a Catholic bishop, believes that freemasons were responsible for the French revolution and the Russian revolution, too. Last week, the Catholic Herald took its cue from the pope’s condemnation of the “masonic lobby” to raise the “truly frightening thought” that masons had infiltrated the Vatican and were subverting the Holy See from within. These devils in aprons are everywhere.
Bergoglio, in short, was digging in over-manured soil….
Reading too much into a handful of words? Maybe, maybe…