Among the major political secret societies in recent European history, P2 (standing for Propaganda Due, “Propagation 2”) was founded in Italy in 1877 as a private Masonic lodge, headed by the Grand Master of Italy, for members of the Italian parliament who wanted to become Masons but needed their membership kept secret from the Roman Catholic Church. Suppressed in 1924 by Mussolini’s government, it was reactivated again in 1946. In the late 1960s, under the leadership of conservative businessman Licio Gelli, P2 reinvented itself as a political secret society. Gelli was no stranger to intrigue; he had simultaneously been a member of the Gestapo and the Italian communist underground during the Second World War. Under Gelli’s leadership, P2 received CIA money as part of a project to fight communism in Italy, but the evidence suggests Gelli played the CIA and KGB off against one another and pocketed much of the proceeds. See Freemasonry.

P2’s opposition to communism made it attractive to many people at the conservative end of the Italian political spectrum. In 1981, when its records were seized in a police raid, its membership included 3 Italian cabinet ministers, 43 members of the Italian parliament, the heads of all Italy’s intelligence agencies, and many other public figures. The Mafia’s traditional conservative politics made mafiosi another significant group within P2; members with known Mafia connections included Michele Greco, rumored to be the capo dei capi of Italy, and Michele Sindona, the lodge treasurer, a multimillionaire financier who managed the Mafia’s profits from the transatlantic heroin trade. See Mafia.

The Vatican, another Italian institution with conservative leanings, also entered into a rapprochement with P2. Despite the Church’s official ban on Masonic membership, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the head of the Vatican bank, became a member. P2 treasurer Sindona and his protégé Roberto Calvi served as key financial advisers to the Vatican. Calvi, along with Archbishop Marcinkus, created hundreds of fictitious bank accounts through which Mafia drug money was laundered. Pope Paul VI placed a large portfolio of Vatican investments under Sindona’s control in 1969, an act that cost the Vatican some $240 million in losses by 1975. See Roman Catholic Church.

Obsessed with fighting communism on all fronts, P2’s members staged at least one major terrorist attack – the bombing of the Bologna rail station in 1980 – in an attempt to discredit the Italian Communist Party and move public opinion to the right. Some investigators have argued that P2 was also behind the mysterious death of Pope John Paul I. After launching a close personal inspection of the Vatican’s finances, the Pope announced on September 28, 1978, that he intended to remove Archbishop Marcinkus and three other Sindona protégés from the Vatican bank. The next morning he was found dead; no autopsy was performed, and allegations of suppressed and destroyed evidence have dogged the Vatican ever since.

P2’s plans to move Italy to the right went awry when the financial empire that supported its activities came crashing down and Italian Freemasonry turned against it. The 1974 collapse of Franklin National Bank of New York, Michele Sindona’s largest American holding, set off a chain of defaults and bankruptcies that landed Sindona himself behind bars in 1980, and sparked the Italian police investigation that led to the seizure of P2’s records and the public release of its membership list in 1981. At the same time, disputes between P2 and the Grand Orient of Italy – the grand lodge of Italian Freemasonry – escalated steadily; the Grand Orient formally withdrew P2’s charter in 1974, and by the early 1980s one former Grand Master had been expelled from Masonry and many other Masonic officials voted out of office because of ties to P2.

In 1982, while the P2 scandal was still front-page news, Banco Ambrosiano – Italy’s largest private bank, headed by Roberto Calvi – collapsed after being stripped of $1.4 billion in assets. The immediate aftermath of the collapse involved a flurry of mysterious deaths. Calvi was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London. A coroner’s inquest labeled the death suicide, but his widow forced the verdict to be overturned, presenting evidence that Calvi intended to name everyone involved in P2’s actions, and the verdict was changed to “cause of death unknown.” The same day Calvi was found hanged in London, his longtime secretary committed “suicide” by leaping from the window of her office in the Banco Ambrosiano building. Within the following year Licio Gelli vanished mysteriously from a Swiss prison cell, where he was being held for extradition, and has never been seen since, while Sindona died in a Milanese prison, claiming that he had been poisoned.

As far as anyone outside its membership knows, P2 went out of existence after it and its records became public. Still, the tradition of political secret societies runs deep in Italy and it seems likely that some of the members have reorganized under a new name.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006