[Some interesting recent developments in the Knights of Malta Machtpolitik-Kulturkampf (power-politics/culture-struggle)]
VATICAN | JAN. 18, 2017
In his Jan. 14 letter, Fra’ Festing said the makeup of the Holy See commission had “raised serious questions,” including because of “serious accusations of a conflict of interest for at least three of the members who have been proved to be linked to a fund in Geneva.” The Register previously reported three commission members — Archbishop Tomasi, Marc Odendall and Marwan Sehnaoui — had been involved with Boeselager regarding a mysterious 120-million Swiss Franc ($118 million) donation to the benefit of the order.
According to documentation the Register has obtained, the order appears to be connected to a Swiss trust. The Register contacted the trust, but did not receive answers to questions related to such connections. Instead, reference was made to Swiss law and criminal penalties if the name of the trust or its members, or allegations about the trust, were published.
The Register has contacted Archbishop Tomasi, Odendall and Boeselager to request information about their apparent involvement in the trust (their names are also in the documentation), but all three have declined to comment ahead of the Jan. 31 completion of the commission of inquiry’s work.
In his Jan. 14 letter, Fra’ Festing said regarding the fund that “there is nothing to suggest anything untoward, but personal and financial links make the commission members clearly unfit to address the situation objectively.” He added that what he has learned of the trust has prompted him to set up an Order of Malta commission to look into it. The Register understands that the trust, like many of Boeselager’s activities, were unknown to Fra’ Festing, who was elected grand master in 2008.
In its Jan. 17 statement, the Holy See reaffirmed its “confidence” in the five members of the commission and said it “rejects, based on the documentation in its possession, any attempt to discredit these members of the group and their work.”
The German Association
The Order of Malta’s leadership has long struggled with its German association. Sources within the order say the association — the wealthiest of all of the order’s national bodies — is seeking to “disenfranchise” the highest rank of the order — its religious — who take a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, and ultimately take over the running of the order.
Due to its lack of vocations, the German association does not have a single professed member, so none of their members can become grand master and be involved in the order’s highest level of decision-making, which is why some say the German members wish to see an end to religious vows. “The Germans want to remove the grand master and take over the entire Via Condotti [the Knights’ administrative headquarters in Rome],” said a source inside the order who wished to remain anonymous.
“The Germans play a huge role and don’t play by rules,” said another source speaking on condition of anonymity, while sources in Rome and Germany have indicated that Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich was highly active in helping to influence the decision to set up a papal commission of enquiry.
The German association denies allegations of wanting to rid the order of its religious character. Its president, Erich Lobkowicz, told the Register Jan. 7 that it is “completely absurd to claim that we do not, with all our heart, support the professed knights as the core of the order.” He added, “We think they should come from the old aristocracy or like-minded generous Catholic people” and said that the order’s lay nature “depends on the professed knights.”
“We have not the slightest inclination to change this,” he said, and he put the current dispute down to a “battle between all that Pope Francis stands for and a tiny clique of ultraconservative frilly old diehards in the Church — diehards that have missed the train in every conceivable respect.”
He added that the German association was “being bad-mouthed as too liberal, because that’s easier than attacking the Pope.”
Lobkowicz also said it “pains us deeply to be defamed by certain persons, doing nothing but sitting around in luxury, as lacking in faith or spirituality.”
The German association president added, “We actively help and do our best to live and proclaim our Catholic faith. There is no teaching of the Church we do not adhere to! Ask our cardinals and bishops, most of whom know us well.”
Despite these firm denials, the Register has learned that the Holy Father has taken the claims seriously and has asked Cardinal Raymond Burke to review the order’s constitutions specifically to address the allegations of a German strategy to remake it into what some fear would become a quasi-non-governmental organization. The aim of the review would be to affirm the religious nature of the order, especially with respect to its highest ranks, which, until Boeselager was elected grand chancellor, used to be filled only with professed knights who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The review instruction came after the order’s last elections in 2014, when the German association succeeded in placing three very senior positions (grand chancellor, grand hospitaller and receiver of the common treasure) into the hands of non-professed knights. The second rank, to which Boeselager belonged, is a contemporary introduction into the constitutions and is seen by some members, from the most senior ranks down, as a means of diminishing the importance of the professed knights, especially when their vow of obedience seems to be misunderstood, as critics of Boeselager maintain.
Lobkowicz’s response to the order’s opposition to the Holy See commission, which he called an “open rebellion” against the Pope, was not well received by some associations, most notably the Italian association. And according to a source inside the order, further “horrible” messages from German members attacking the grand master are likely to provoke “disciplinary action” against them when this dispute ends. Such behavior contravenes the order’s constitution.
Some in the order speculate the Holy See commission already has reached an internal conclusion, given the very short time it has been given to complete its work. But with its longstanding ties to the Holy See, it’s hoped a resolution can be reached in which all sides save face.
Cardinal Parolin was invited again to answer questions on the issue by the Register, but his office did not respond.