The SUN, Monday, January 17, 2011
The Grande Loge Nationale Française continues to make the news in France, and they seem to be heading for a very ugly and very public implosion. At the heart of the troubles is Grand Master François Stifani. An internal battle has raged against Stifani and his actions and policies for over a year, and now, foreign grand lodges are stepping into the fracas.
The GLNF is one of the three principal Masonic grand lodges at work in France, and is the one most recognized as regular by the majority of the world's Freemasons, including US and Canadian grand lodges, and the United Grand Lodge of England.
GM Stifani has enraged GLNF members by exposing Masonic ritual openly on national television, by embracing brutal African leaders as Masonic brothers, by promoting membership increases over the quality of initiation, by failing to have the GLNF's books independently audited, and most of all, by officially cozying up to the President and ruling political party of France. At the grand session last January, many brethren stormed out in protest of Stifani, and several lodges in the Loire Valley have had their charters revoked by the GM.
An 850 square foot Paris apartment costing €2.5 million (US$3.3 million) was recently purchased as a "venue more suitable and consistent with the current status of the grand lodge." Stifani said the new digs, several blocks away from the Grand Lodge's very large and modern multi-story building on Paris' north side in the 17th Arrondissement, were needed to receive "major players in civil society, politicians, intellectuals or religious, to the benefit of the reputation of our house."
The most recent furor revolves around an official letter, sent on GLNF stationary a year ago, and with the Grand Master's signature, pledging support of the Grand Lodge to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Blatant political dabbling has long been the activity of the irregular, largely unrecognized, and Left wing Grand Orient de France, which has often taken public stands on political issues and government policies. But the more Right wing GLNF has historically steered clear of such political activity, until now. The letter was made public and published in L'Express Magazine.
Last week, the Deputy Grand Master, Jean-Claude Tardivat, resigned as DGM and from the Board of Directors. He follows in the wake of other resignations by Jacques Studer, Provincial Grand Master of the Rhone Valley, and John Dugeny, Deputy Grand Master of Honor.
Members have resorted to the civil court system, and on December 7th, 2010, a Paris High Court demanded the GLNF's General Assembly be convened to consider removing Stifani. Stifani remains defiant—the Grand Master also serves as president of the governing board, and his public position is that he can be removed as president, but remain as Grand Master.
In the meantime, grand lodges in Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg have fired off official letters of complaint to the GLNF and Stifani, protesting his supportive communication to President Sarkozy as being in violation of the most basic tenets of Freemasonry. Stifani shrugged off those contacts, but on December 9th, the United Grand Lodge of England also weighed in with an official message of protest, saying it "clearly offends against one of the basic principles of Freemasonry—that a Mason acting in his Masonic capacity does not make any comment on state of social policy, or which could be construed as allying himself or his Grand Lodge with a particular political party or faction. . . If the letter is genuine, it could seriously affect the close relations that have always existed between the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Masters of your Grand Lodge."
Them's fightin' words.
Such a strongly worded official commentary on a foreign grand lodge jurisdiction is rare in the regular Masonic world. But the battles in the GLNF have been splashed across the web, newspapers, magazines, TV, and courtrooms, and dozens of lodges and hundreds of GLNF Masons are in turmoil.
The wrinkle in the story is that Stifani contends that the letter supposedly sent to Sarkozy pledging the political support of the GLNF was a forgery. Yes, it was sent on GLNF stationary, and yes it had Stifani's signature, but he contends the letter is a forgery, the stationary was stolen, and his signature was attached from an electronic file without his approval. Somewhat belatedly, he has filed a police report to that effect.