Robert de Mattei
December 24, 2016
Has the Pope appointed an external commissioner to the Order of Malta? Pope Francis undeniably likes the strategy of appointing external commissioners as he has already adopted this draconian measure against two religious communities considered too “traditional”: the Franciscans of the Immaculate and the religious of the Incarnate Word. Further, it is not by chance that the announcement of a commission to “gather suitable elements to inform the Holy See thoroughly and swiftly with regard to the matter which has recently involved the Grand Chancellor of the Order of Malta, Mr. Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager”, was given by the Vatican Press Office on December 22nd, precisely while Pope Bergoglio was transforming his traditional Christmas greetings to the Curia into a bitter chiding against those who are resistant to his project of radical change in the Church, with implicit reference to Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, Patron of the Order of Malta. However, in this case, the appointing of an external commissioner is not at all possible.
As Don Fabrizio Turriziani Colonna explains in a documented study dedicated to the Sovereignty and independence of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2006), the Order of Malta and the Holy See are placed one in front of the other as subjects of International Law and thus are in a position of reciprocal independence. The Order of Malta, has in fact a twofold juridical character; at the level of Canon Law, it is subordinate to the Holy See, but at the level of International Law it is guaranteed independence from it. The fact that the Order of Malta maintains diplomatic relations with 94 states and has an ambassador to the Holy See, confirms that, in a certain sphere, their relations are as equals. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, is, in short, a sovereign State, even if it has no territory, jealous of its autonomy and privileges. Throughout nine centuries of history, the Knights of Malta have been covered in glory, shedding their blood for the Church, but there have been no want of conflicts between them and the Holy See.
The last one, narrated by Roger Peyrefitte (Chevaliers de Malte, Flammarion, Paris 1957), was after the Second World War, when the Order was able to thwart an attempt to fuse them with the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. This struggle came to a halt in 1953 with the sentence by a Tribunal of cardinals which recognized the sovereignty of the Order of Malta, but nonetheless affirming its dependence on the Holy See as far as concerned the religious life of the knights. The Order of Malta accepted the sentence, conditioning it on some points: 1) the recognition of the rights due to it as subject of international law; 2) the limitation of religious independence of the Order only to professed knights and Chaplains; 3) the exclusion of subjection to the Vatican Secretary of State.
The Holy See’s competence does not involve then the internal and international governing of the Order, but limits itself to the strictly religious sphere. At this point one could imagine that the Pope, having identified deviations of a moral and doctrinal order among the knights, had thought of intervening to straighten out the situation. What happened instead? It was brought to light that Albrecht von Boeselager, during his time as Grand Hospitaller of the Order, had abused his power. promoting the distribution of tens of thousands of condoms and contraceptives, also abortifacients, (so the reports related to the United Nations’ programme against HIV/AIDS in Myanmar document), [so] the Grand Master Matthew Festing intervened to bring an end to the scandal and asked Boeselager to resign, appealing to the vow of obedience made to him.
The Grand Chancellor, strong in his friendship with the Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin and of his brother George’s recent appointment to the board of the IOR (Institute for the Works of Religion -the Vatican Bank) rejected the request arrogantly, laying claim to his "liberal" Catholic stance. The creation on the part of the Secretary of State of an investigative group of five members, all of them more or less connected to Boeselager, constitutes a serious case of interference in the governing of the Order. The Holy See should limit itself to watching over the religious life through its Cardinal Patron, Cardinal Burke, appointed by Pope Francis himself. The Pope has every right to be informed with regard to the Order’s internal affairs, but it is irregular for this to take place through a commission which bypasses the pontifical representative, unless there is the desire to accuse the latter.
A Cardinal, however, can be judged only by his peers and not by Vatican bureaucrats. Equally improper is entrusting a Vatican Commission with the judgement of matters regarding not the religious life, but the governing of the Order, accusing, in this case, the Grand Master. The latter has done well to reject the bogus actions by the commission. Unfortunately not only is the procedure bogus, but the judgment in particular coming from the Vatican Authorities regarding it. Whoever favours contraception and abortion, disdaining the Church’s Magisterium, and violates their own vows, merits rehabilitation nowadays. Whoever defends the Church’s teachings and the moral integrity of the institutions he belongs to, is, on the other hand, accused of “malevolent resistance” to the Holy Father and ends up in the dock. Let us hope that the Knights react. The sovereignty of the Order of Malta is at stake as well as its uninterrupted tradition in defense of the faith and Catholic morality.
Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana