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Will It Never End?

The Pope Destroys the Sovereignty of the
Sovereign Military Order of Malta

by Christopher A. Ferrara
January 26, 2017

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta (aka the Knights of Malta), founded in 1099 under the name Knights Hospitaller, is considered a political sovereignty with its own passports and diplomatic relations with numerous countries, including the Vatican City State itself.  It even has observer status at the United Nations.  The Order’s rich history includes its pivotal role in the victory over Islam at the Battle of Lepanto (1571), after which it was first granted territorial status by Pope Clement VII (then encompassing the entire island of Malta but today limited to its headquarters, priories and other possessions, including part of Malta’s Fort St. Angelo).

Pope Francis has just destroyed the order’s political sovereignty in a plain abuse of papal authority, as discussed below. The move followed the internationally publicized decision of the Order’s Grand Master, Matthew Festing, to remove Albrecht von Boeselager from his position as Grand Chancellor due to von Boeselager’s involvement in the Order’s distribution of contraceptives through its international charity arm, Malteser International, which went on for years until the Order’s leadership uncovered the scandal.

What exactly has Francis done here that constitutes an abuse of authority?

First, he personally demanded Festing’s resignation over a matter of the Order’s internal governance, i.e., the removal of Boeslager. Festing has complied with the demand. In effect, Francis coerced a head of state to resign — and this without any prior papal revocation of the Order’s centuries-old, papally granted privilege of state sovereignty. 

Perhaps one could interpret this action minimally as the voluntary obedience of a papal subject to a papal command, however unjust it was.  Indeed, the Pope should have asked Boeselager to resign when he refused Festing’s order to step down (forcing Festing to initiate internal procedures for Boeslager’s removal).

  But the second action Francis has taken cannot in any wise be defended as a legitimate exercise of papal authority: He has decreed that the Order will now be run by an Apostolic Delegate. This amounts, quite literally, to a papal coup d’Etat. Apparently heedless of the implications, Francis has overthrown the government of a sovereign state, thus threatening the Vatican’s own sovereignty in the future.

Do I exaggerate?  Let Ed Condon, writing in the mainstream and normally quite staid journal Catholic Herald, explain — in an article appropriately entitled “The Vatican has destroyed the Order of Malta’s sovereignty. What if Italy does the same to the Vatican?” Condon writes:  “[T]he most astonishing feature of the story is today’s announcement that the Pope will install an Apostolic Delegate to run the Order. In effect, this abolishes the Order as a sovereign entity. Under international law, what we are seeing is effectively the annexation of one country by another.

Condon observes that Francis evidently did not think the matter through, but that the Church’s enemies most certainly will:

“Today’s announcement of an Apostolic Delegate to be appointed by the Pope represents, essentially, the total abrogation of the Order’s sovereignty. Yet the consequences for the Holy See itself may, in the longer term, be equally or even more severe. The disregard for the mutually sovereign relationship between the Holy See and the Order sets a precedent in international law, which will now lurk under the Secretariat of State’s dealings with other governments like an unexploded bomb.

“If the Holy See can so brazenly insert itself into the internal governance of another sovereign entity whose legitimacy stems from a mutual agreement under international law, it now has no legal defence should another sovereign body, say the government of the Italian Republic, choose to view the independence of the Holy See as a similarly anachronistic formality.

“Cardinal Parolin [the Vatican Secretary of State] should prepare to see today’s actions cited as legitimate precedent when the IOR, commonly called the Vatican Bank, finds its sovereign independence under renewed pressure from other countries or international bodies.

“Pope Benedict XVI said that ‘a society without laws is a society without rights’; the naked disregard for the law shown in recent weeks has sown a bitter harvest for the Holy See’s diplomatic corps to reap in the future.

So what is going on here?  Sad to say, this is just another indication that the endlessly vaunted Bergoglian “reform of the Roman Curia” has merely replaced one network of curial cliques with another — the cliques that surround Francis and influence his decisions.  And, as is so often the case with intrigues of this sort, it is a question of “follow the money.”

As LifeSiteNews reports, the money trail leads directly to the German branch of the order — Boeselager being a German aristocrat — and the intervention of German Cardinal Reinhard Marx. The Pope had appointed a commission to “investigate” Boeselager’s removal — a move Condon calls “totally illegitimate” given the status of the Order as a sovereign entity.  Curiously enough, to quote LifeSite, four members of the five-man commission “are members of the Order and in allegiance with Boeselager” and “under his payroll.” And three of the five — Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Marc Odendall and Marwan Sehnaoui — were involved with Boeslanger in the management of a bequest to the Order of some $118 million.

In short, the “neutral” commission was merely window dressing for the predetermined sacking of the Order at the behest of Boeselager’s friends in the Vatican, including Cardinal Marx. LifeSite states the unhappy conclusion:

“The latest move by the Pope, which indications noted above stem from the bidding of Cardinal Marx, has left the Pope in a bad light. From outward appearances it seems Pope Francis cared little about the anti-life scandal that persisted for years in the Order. Rather, the Pope heeded the will of the moneyed and powerful aristocrat who was held responsible for the scandal.”

Now, of course, the mass media are spinning this debacle as a victory for Francis and his cadre of reformers against the “rigid traditionalists” in the Order.  As the Irish Times crowed in its headline on the affair: “Pope Francis strikes blow for church ‘liberals’ in condom row…” The accompanying article rather smugly observes that Francis “is unlikely to feel huge sympathy for an organisation, some of whose members mix huge historical and diplomatic ‘European’ privilege with both high finance and hardline traditionalist theology…” — that is, orthodox Catholicism.

The writer further notes that “Cardinal Burke, the order’s patron, was critical of many of the potential reforms to Catholic teaching regarding the family, marriage and divorce discussed at the two Vatican Synods on the family in 2015 and 2016. He was one of four cardinals who signed an open letter to Francis last autumn questioning new guidance allowing priests to decide on a case-by-case basis whether divorced and remarried believers should be able to receive communion.”  Indeed, as Cardinal Burke backed Boeslager’s removal, Francis’ lightning-like takeover of the very Order of which he had made Burke spiritual patron — is there nothing more pressing in the Pope’s agenda? — can only be seen as a resounding papal rebuke of the cardinal.

An ancient chivalric order with the status of a political sovereignty, conducting its own internal affairs, appropriately disciplines a subordinate involved in a continuous flagrant violation of the Church’s infallible teaching on the intrinsic evil of contraception. But the Pope, ignoring the scandal, proceeds immediately to destroy the order’s sovereignty, dating from its role in the defeat of Islam at Lepanto, merely because the wayward subordinate had powerful friends in the Vatican.  The defender of Church teaching is punished and his organization essentially sacked, while the one who violated Church teaching is rewarded with a total vindication by papal fiat.

A growing spirit of lawlessness rises in the commonwealth of the Church as the prophecies of Fatima approach their dramatic consummation.