Bribery allegations against former Magistrate Patrick Vella and former Chief Justice Noel Arrigo, rekindled the debate on the alleged close links between the judiciary and freemasonry, when TVM programme Bondiplus aired secret footage of Maltese freemasons gathered in ritual.
by Matthew Vella
After years of notoriety as a secret society, and a raging debate over the alleged membership of public officials, Malta’s freemasons have gone public with a fully-fledged website describing their activities, history and also their statute.
Malta’s freemasons now welcome the public to go beyond its portrayal “as a secret, self-serving, or sinister society”, to one whose motivation centres on “humility, tolerance, and charity”.
Malta’s lodges from the English, Scottish and Irish Constitutions congregated in one single Grand Lodge in 2004, when the Leinster, Abercorn and Fenici lodges of the Irish Constitution resolved to create a Maltese grand lodge, with ‘Brother’ Joseph P. Cordina as its “most worshipful grand master”.
And with that comes a more transparent approach to their activities, after years attracting some of the most sensationalist of coverage.
“We abide by the laws of the State and are critical of those in violation, and expect similar from those around us. We recognise there are some who regard our titling of officers, our terminology, our formal dress codes, and our conduct, as rather quaint in a modern society: but we are unapologetic in adhering to our traditions,” the grand master writes in his welcoming statement.
Freemasonry was largely viewed with suspicion in Malta, mainly due to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and its antipathy towards masonic lodges.
The acrimonious relationship was best characterised when Lord Gerald Strickland, the leader of the Constitutional Party, was said to have been seen wearing the freemasons’ garb, in an affidavit signed by Ettore Bono, who was working as a waiter during a freemasons’ activity in Valletta.
The pre-electoral effect of ‘Terinu’, as Bono was nicknamed, was devastating for Strickland.
Then in 1990, news that Magistrate Carol Peralta had been the “Worshipful Master” of Leinster lodge before being appointed magistrate, fuelled speculation about the impartiality of public officers.
A decade later, the bribery allegations against former Magistrate Patrick Vella and former Chief Justice Noel Arrigo, rekindled the debate on the alleged close links between the judiciary and freemasonry, when TVM programme Bondiplus aired secret footage of Maltese freemasons gathered in ritual.
That turbulent period does not go unnoticed in the Sovereign Grand Lodge’s ‘history’ in its website:
“The autumn of 2002 was to provide an unlikely catalyst for changes in matters Masonic on Malta. The national television channel aired a sensationalist ‘exposé’ programme, based on secretly filmed Masonic Lodge proceedings by a brother,” with reference to the secret footage filmed by the private investigator Joe Zahra – a former freemason who at the time worked for the Bondiplus team.
The freemasons say the programme “served to embarrass Maltese masons living and working in a dominantly Catholic environment known to disfavour freemasonry. An understandable furore over disciplinary action ensued and there can be no doubt but that wavering opinions as to the potential creation of an independent Maltese Grand Lodge were swayed in favour at this time.”
Since that time however, Maltese freemasonry does not seem to have dwindled, with three subordinate lodges, the Hospitaliers Lodge, the Ars Discendi Lodge, and the Loggia Flos Mundi, being constituted in recent years.
The grand lodge’s main quarters is at Casa Viani in Valletta, which housed the Lodge of St John and St Paul, founded in 1815 by Walter Rodwell Wright, Chief Justice of Malta from 1814 to 1826.
Many knights of the Order of St. John and some of the Maltese nobility were freemasons. In 1756, the Grand Master of the Order was a freemason named E. Pinto de Fonseca. De Rohan, who was Grandmaster of the Order of St. John between 1775 and 1797, is reported also to have been a freemason, and is said to have helped the spread of freemasonry in Malta and to have been heavily censured by the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. The first Masonic lodges operated in Malta under French warrants generally obtained from Marseilles, but under the guidance of Count von Kollowrat, the Scotch Lodge of St. John of Marseilles petitioned the Grand Lodge of the Moderns in England to obtain an English warrant on the 30th June, 1788. This lodge noted in its petition that the most important members of the Order of St. John ranked amongst its membership. The lodge obtained an English warrant as the Lodge of St. John of Secrecy and Harmony.