Freemasonry is the only refuge left from a world consuming and devouring itself with relentless materialism, according to Simon Cusens.

“It’s a real relief to walk up those steps in Triq Marsamxett and enter a building full of like-minded people and spend a meaningful evening speaking about the truly most important things in life that you can’t buy with money,” he said.

Real freemasons are good and virtuous people who meet to become better persons and find genuine friends but their reputation is being tainted by rogue criminals who want to operate in secrecy to hide sinister motives and by bloggers who are unfairly associating the good freemasons with the bad ones, according to the chief of Malta’s original freemasons.

Cusens is a man on a mission. He wants to clear the name of hundreds of genuine freemasons in Malta whose reputation has been smeared by centuries-old public misconceptions and conspiracy theories about crime and corruption.

“We did not conspire to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia, we are not criminals, we are not infiltrated by the mafia and we do not help each other to break the law, obtain illicit wealth or harm other people,” Cusens insisted.

“But I can only speak for our group of regular freemasons. We are not the only freemasons in Malta. I will not discuss the others and cannot speak for them because we don’t hang out with them but I want people to know that we are not one group.”

Cusens leads the Sovereign Grand Lodge of Malta and the interview takes place at the English Masonic Hall and main masonic temple in Triq Marsamxett, Valletta.

It was founded in 2004 as the regular freemasonry masonic institution for Malta, recognised by and in amity with the United Grand Lodge of England, headed by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.

There are other freemasonry lodges operating locally, he said, but, apart from those, it appears there are other people who might have formed illicit groups that are only freemasons by name and exploit the masonic principles of brotherhood and secrecy to drive their personal and business self-serving agendas.

And if any freemasons are doing anything criminal, they are not the real, genuine freemasons, he insisted.

Video: Karl Andrew Micallef

“There have been some bad apples, even in our lodges, but we came down on them like a ton of bricks and we are extremely strict in admitting only people of integrity and good intentions,” Cusens said.

At the heart of the lodge in Marsamxett lies the main masonic temple. It is a hall, the walls of which are all lined with rows of seating, all facing towards the centre of the room, which is largely empty.

Some seats are more elaborate, very distinguishable as belonging to freemasons who hold the higher positions in the hierarchy, and an old bible and a gavel rest on a small, wooden table.

The walls inside the temple and the rest of the lodge are lined with freemasonry symbols, flags, coat of arms, inscriptions and group photos of hundreds of men who used to be freemasons at various periods in the Grand Lodge's history.

The most common symbols are the all-seeing eye and the letter 'G', which Cusens says symbolise the all-seeing eye of a divine creator, and the square and compasses, which symbolise the ancient tools used by masons and architects in the building industry.

A few, heavily embroidered aprons are on display as well. The aprons are common in a freemason's attire and they originate from work habits of early stone masons, who would tie an apron around their waist to protect them from injury. The lodge also has a bar, recreation area and dining hall.

Outed as a freemason

A history graduate and a renowned Anglophile who campaigns to retain the George Cross on the national flag, Cusens said he did not intend to reveal himself as the freemasonry grand master because he did not want his friends and acquaintances to feel uncomfortable.

However, he was outed as the freemasons’ boss last month by two bloggers, including author Mark Camilleri, after he sat down for an anonymous interview with TVM in a bid to explain to the public what the fraternity is about.

The bloggers said freemasons use the secretive organisation to engage in shady, possibly corrupt, business and extend their networks with other powerful and wealthy people to acquire government favours and influence political decisions in their favour.

They also noted how, two years ago, pardoned middleman Melvin Theuma had said in court that freemasons were prepared to pay €100,000 for the murder of Caruana Galizia.

Cusens categorically denied that the Sovereign Grand Lodge of Malta was involved in any conspiracy to assassinate the journalist and said the allegations are the result of shoddy research intended only to generate online clicks.

“The bloggers heard of some subversive group of ‘masons’ who allegedly wanted to kill Caruana Galizia, then got wind that I was the regular freemasonry grand master and they joined the dots to say that I must be the head of a criminal gang.

“I tried to practise and live my freemasonry applying it as a moral code to my life in peace and privacy until I was brutally torn into by the voracious, tabloid and gutter press elements seeking juicy stories and mixing and matching our onerous society with society’s worst elements.”

Cusens said that when the allegation emerged in court two years ago he was beyond shocked and went to the police headquarters to deny any wrongdoing and submit himself and the fraternity to police investigations.

“If there is any mason of ours who is remotely associated with any criminal activity, I will cooperate with the police to bring them to justice because we don’t tolerate and don’t want those people among us,” he said.

Last week, one blogger also alleged that Cusens was indirectly involved in a shady deal involving his former medical equipment business and Vitals Global Healthcare.

But Cusens insisted that, although he was a businessman for most of his life, he sold his company and retired in 2017, two years before being elected grand master. He stopped doing business and has nothing to do with deals involving his former company because, by that time, he had already let go of it, he insisted.

“In medieval times, we would be burnt at the stake by the Inquisition. Today, we suffer the same fate at the hands of the social media, which has become the modern inquisition,” he said.

“With the stroke of the electronic pen, the bloggers tarnished a reputation that I had been diligently building for decades.”

Cusens: ‘I don’t understand why all this hatred of freemasonry’.Cusens: ‘I don’t understand why all this hatred of freemasonry’.

Why freemasons are despised

For centuries, freemasons have been among the most resented.

Because of its strict principles of brotherhood and secrecy and the wealthy and powerful people it often attracts, freemasonry in Malta and around the world has been shrouded in mystery and controversy.

It has been the target of endless conspiracy theories about politicians, businessmen and other wealthy and powerful people meeting behind closed doors to do anything from running governments, planning coup d’états and commissioning assassinations, to engaging in occult rituals, sacrifice offerings, drinking babies’ blood and flying over neighbourhoods in some form of satanic sorcery.

“Until a few decades ago, people would say we flew in the sky over Valletta,” Cusens said.

Anything derogatory uttered about freemasons would be believed, Cusens said, because centuries of public flogging, witch-hunting and even bad apples got everybody hating the masons.

Some rumours are likely exaggerated, not least because, since the inception of freemasonry in the early 1700s, the Roman Catholic Church was uncomfortable with the British, Protestant, secret organisation. At times, it had every interest to allow wild conspiracy stories to foment among Catholics, which is also why the Maltese expression ‘kemm int mażun’ (you’re a mason) was frequently used by Maltese people to describe anyone abandoned the Catholic religion or its liturgies.

Freemasons were historically also behind some positive political revolutions in Europe.

But the unshakeable traditions of freemasonry that are bound by secrecy have also proved comforting for gangs of organised crime who used the unrelenting power of secrecy and brotherhood to conceal and grow criminal activity.

Brotherhood turned into collusion and complicity in crime  and secrecy turned into omertà. In Italy, freemasonry proved to be especially fertile ground for the mafia to forge strong new ties and flourish.

Most crucially, freemasonry proved problematic because it allows people from any profession to join the brotherhood and it has been often revealed that politicians, top police officers, businessmen and criminals around the world were all part of the secret organisation and were engaging in drug smuggling and other criminal activities. Cusens insists none of this happens within the lodges he leads.

In 2014, the British media revealed how gangs of organised crime used their freemasonry contacts to recruit corrupt police officers inside Scotland Yard and that was just one of several similar revelations.

In a series of raids in 2017, the Italian police discovered that scores of high-ranking members of the Sicilian mafia and the Calabrian mafia-like gang known as the Ndrangheta were members of freemasonry lodges.

In Malta, former Labour minister Evarist Bartolo had warned about the dangers of unbridled freemasonry, saying he was concerned about how powerful people in politics, business, law enforcement, education, banking and other areas called themselves ‘brothers’ and promised to look out for each other. He said secret organisations have no place in a democratic country.

You won’t see us parading big cheques on television but we live our altruism, which is an essential part of freemasonry, in our daily lives

Little to none is known with certainty about what goes on in Maltese freemasonry lodges but Malta prohibits judges and magistrates from enrolling in secret organisations.

Meanwhile, suspicions about freemasonry in Malta linger on but Cusens insisted the real brotherhood is the absolute opposite of all of that.

The Sovereign Grand Lodge of Malta is a registered voluntary organisation recognised by the state and bound by the laws of the country, he said. It submits annual audited accounts and engages in several charitable initiatives.

Most recently, it sent financial aid to the Turkey earthquake victims and to the Ukrainian families in the war. It plants trees in afforestation efforts, forks out money for the restoration of historic buildings and donates thousands of euros to local food banks, Cusens said.

“You won’t see us parading big cheques on television but we live our altruism, which is an essential part of freemasonry, in our daily lives.”

Furthermore, freemasons are prohibited from discussing business, politics, sports or any other divisive or contentious subjects during masonic meetings, which consist mostly of sessions ‘for the improvement of the self’ – lectures on the philosophy of life, topics on morality and masonic history or symbolism.

Social events are organised to forge and consolidate friendships or to carry out altruistic acts, Cusens said.

“The meetings aim to help freemasons mature in thought, word and deed for brethren to become better people in their respective jobs, as members of society and in their personal lives and at home. Masons learn to become increasingly tolerant to religious, racial and ideological diversity.”

Who can become a freemason?

Anyone can become a freemason. That is as long as the applicant is a man aged at least 21, is a believer in some divine form of higher power and has a pristine police conduct and an exceptional reputation, Cusens explained. Anyone who has their reputation tainted even the least bit will not be admitted as a freemason and if he is already a member of the lodge, will be fired.

The fact that women are not accepted is down to tradition.

“It just so happens to be a men’s club and just like there are no female friars there are no female freemasons in Maltese regular freemasonry. But women are free to set up their own lodge, use the same premises and abide by the same rule book if they want to. But there seems to be no appetite for it in Malta.”

No professions are excluded, meaning that everyone from politicians and businessmen to priests, lawyers and teachers can be freemasons.

“Members of the judiciary are not precluded from joining us but medieval rules do not allow them to associate themselves with us. But I think it’s not fair on them,” Cusens said, as he refused to confirm the specific professions of his lodge’s members.

“We accept all professions but not all professions accept us.”

Freemasons also do not need to be wealthy, he said. The Sovereign Grand Lodge of Malta has even admitted freemasons who are taxi drivers.

Cusens would not say how many freemasons there are in Malta. He would only say that in the 13 lodges of regular freemasonry in the country, the biggest one has around 120 members and smallest one has around 12 members. It is safe to say there are hundreds of freemasons in Malta, with members from some 20 different nationalities.

But the identity of members is kept secret. A freemason may speak publicly about himself as a mason but cannot reveal the identity of other masons or what happens during masonic meetings.

“It is my right as a freemason to have a private life and nobody has a right to know what I do in my relationships with friends,” he said.

“Nobody has the right to know who a private company’s employees are, for example, and neither what goes on in their board meetings or during a government cabinet meeting.”

Pressed on the importance of people knowing who their publicly-elected officials are meeting, Cusens insisted that politicians have private conversations with other politicians and people all the time and the public has no right to know what they say in every place they go, especially when they are conducting their private life. Again, he would not comment on whether any Maltese politicians are freemasons.

“A politician and a businessman can be on a band club committee together. Or on a disciplinary board. So why can’t they be freemasons,” he said.

He also rebutted the argument that freemasonry could be used by mafia mobs and criminal gangs for illegal activity, saying the mafia infiltrated just about everywhere, from governments all around the world to the Vatican. There are bad apples everywhere but the good people should not suffer because of them.

He also denied that regular freemasons meet to help each other in their personal business ventures. Rather, freemasonry is aimed to take good people and make them better, he said, by instilling thought, wisdom and other good qualities in the person.

“It’s like a tonic for the brain or the soul. If freemasons come together to become a force or exert pressure or influence – even if it is some positive influence – that’s not freemasonry anymore,” Cusens said.

“The late Prince Philip (Queen Elizabeth’s husband), Isaac Newton, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and so many other great people were all masons and they are all extremely respectable people. I don’t understand why all this hatred of freemasonry.”

The temple where some of the most ‘emotionally stimulating’ masonic rites take place.The temple where some of the most ‘emotionally stimulating’ masonic rites take place.

Freemasonry’s origins

Founded in England in 1717, freemasonry originated from guilds – associations for craftsmen – the first form of workers’ unions in the Middle Ages and grew to become the world’s biggest secret organisation.

Freemasonry started out as an association for builders and stone masons – hence the name – but when membership declined, it started to accept people from other professions as well and over the next two centuries established itself as the controversial organisation it is known as today, complete with costumes, rites and chivalric customs.

Freemasonry is known for its elaborate initiation ceremonies, which Cusens said are also common practice in the Maltese regular freemasonry.

New candidates are admitted as freemasons in a highly emotional ceremony – complete with actors, a script and theatrical effects – that stimulates the human senses and often brings the new freemason to tears, Cusens explained. But he would not divulge further.

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