More Questions Than Answers

More Questions Than Answers

From Malta Besieged: An Ancient and Sovereign Order Toppled by Rome

Steve Skojec January 28, 2017

More Questions Than Answers

Following this complex sequence of events [read the first half of this article at OnePeterFive], we are left with many important questions. Foremost among them:

Why would the pope ask Cardinal Burke to clean house at the Order, only to later take action against the Order for doing just that?

What instructions were actually contained in the Pope’s December 1 letter to Cardinal Burke, and were they carried out appropriately?

If Boeselager was discovered to have been responsible for programs distributing condoms during his tenure as Grand Hospitaller by two separate investigations, how is it possible that a five-person commission assembled only a month ago has exonerated him completely?

How can the Vatican offer any pretense of accepting the judgment of a commission the majority of which have a conflict of interest as pertains to their apparent dealings with Boeselager, Slinger, and the 120 million Swiss franc trust?

What relationship does Cardinal Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, have, if any, to the involvement of his former employee, Archbishop Tomasi, in relations to the “fund in Geneva” — a fund that Edward Pentin reports he has had knowledge of since 2014?

Why was Boeselager’s brother Georg appointed to an oversight position at the Vatican Bank just days after Boeselager’s removal from the Sovereign Council was announced? Was this just a coincidence?

How does Marc Odendall’s own position as an appointee of Pope Francis to the board of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority relate to his involvement as member of the Order, Treasurer of Caritatis in Veritate, and member of the investigatory commission into the Boeselanger affair?

What interest does Pope Francis have in keeping Boeselager in place while removing Festing, particularly after he expressed his concerns so strongly to Cardinal Burke in their November 10 meeting and his December 1 letter? Why is he interfering in the affairs of a sovereign entity, which has essentially the same legal status as a nation?

What leverage could have been applied to Festing to force his resignation such a short time after he made strong statements of sovereign independence and an unwillingness to collaborate with a Vatican probe? Why did his Sovereign Council accept his resignation if they truly care about the continued sovereignty and integrity of the Order? Was this really a matter of enforcement of the obedience to the Holy Father outlined in article 62 of the Order’s constitutions?

Why is Cardinal Burke being specifically targeted by the pope in a way that places responsibility for an act of internal governance of the Order on his shoulders, despite his lack of authority within the juridical structure of the Order?
What precedent does this set in terms of international law, and how is the Vatican’s own sovereignty not damaged by this action?

It is impossible not to wonder about the unflattering realities the answers to these questions might reveal. Was the pope’s instruction to Cardinal Burke to do his duty and clean up the order merely a trap? Was it motivated by a personal vendetta against Burke as the most notable opponent to the pope’s signature exhortation, Amoris Laetitia?

What about the money? Would anyone at the Vatican stand to gain by keeping quiet about any possible malfeasance as regards the du Tour trust through the removal of Festing and the reinstatement of Boeselager? Are the interim Grand Master or the papal delegate going to quietly drop the lawsuit against Ariane Slinger and leave the money in the Caritatis pro Vitae trust?

Why would Festing give up so easily, and with so little warning? Our contacts with members inside the Order have confirmed that there was no indication, even at the highest levels, that this resignation was coming.

What of the conveniently timed revelation of a mishandled child sex abuse scandal within the Order’s ranks? From Christopher Lamb at The Tablet:

The Vatican are also aware of a child sex abuse scandal that exploded in the UK under the Grand Master’s watch and which led to an inquiry by Baroness Cumberlege.

She found that three knights had made a catalogue of serious errors when handling abuse complaints made against Vernon Quaintance, a former sacristan for the Knights of Malta who was found guilty of nine sex offences including those against boys as young as 11 he had met in the 1960s and 70s.

While the three knights involved later apologised, one of them, Duncan Gallie, was appointed by Festing as a member of the order’s Sovereign Council and is living in Rome.

If this is the motivating factor in the pope’s decision, what of his own exposure to encroaching sex abuse scandals that he is personally connected to?

How much of what has transpired might involve something other than the apparent details of the case, instead relating to ideological conflicts between Pope Francis and the Grand Master and his new Cardinal Patronus? In his story at the The Tablet, Christopher Lamb also reported that

Sources inside the order seeking reform say Festing and his allies want the “good old days” of 1950s Catholicism, with the old rite Mass and autocratic leadership.

The President of the knights’ German Association, Erich Lobkowicz, told the National Catholic Register that his had been 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”.

Meanwhile, in Argentina the Pope had his own dispute with the knights who had been part of a nexus of opposition against him as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Francis is wary of Catholic chivalric orders, which he worries can show signs of profligacy and “spiritual worldliness”; when a knight in Argentina sent him a first-class ticket to Rome it was reportedly shredded into pieces and returned to sender.

Is the idea of a backlash against traditionalist strain within the order more relevant in light of news that Francis is seeking a review of the new Mass translation for the Novus Ordo, and amidst related rumors that he wishes in some way to cut the legs out from under Summorum Pontificum?

Is it a coincidence that on January 10, 2017 — the same day that Fra’ Festing issued a statement reiterating the Order’s sovereignty in the face of a proposed Vatican investigation, Pope Francis gave a homily in which he said:

Jesus served the people, He explained things because the people understood well: He was at the service of the people. He had an attitude of a servant, and this gave authority. On the other hand, these doctors of the law that the people… yes, they heard, they respected, but they didn’t feel that they had authority over them; these had a psychology of princes: ‘We are the masters, the princes, and we teach you. Not service: we command, you obey.’ And Jesus never passed Himself off like a prince: He was always the servant of all, and this is what gave Him authority.

Was the Grand Master, whose uniform could easily be described as “fancy clothes” and whose proper title was “Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta,” the target of these remarks?

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Pope Francis and Fra’ Matthew Festing.

Was the aggressive resolution of this matter part of a vendetta on the part of Pope Francis toward the Knights of Malta? Austen Ivereigh, papal biographer and ally of Francis, revealed in an article at Crux that there is a history of conflict between then Cardinal Bergoglio and a faction within the Order:

The two may be wholly unconnected, but this is not the first time that Francis has faced hostility from the Knights of Malta, some of whose leading figures were involved in an unsuccessful plot in 2008 to remove Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and replace him with a chaplain to the Knights, the Bishop of Zárate-Campana, Oscar Sarlinga.

Bizarre as it sounds, the plot was widely spoken of at the time, and has since been confirmed by a number of those involved, including Sarlinga himself – although he denies being in favor of the idea – in an interview to the religious correspondent to La Nación, Mariano Vedia, for his book, En Nombre del Papa (‘In the Name of the Pope’).

Whatever the answers to these questions, there is a great deal that remains unknown. In no way can an external observer of the facts in this case feel confident that justice was accomplished in the hasty removal of Festing — who appears to have sought only to do his duty — and the subsequent reinstatement of Boeselager. Neither can we feel content with the apparent scapegoating of Cardinal Burke as the source of opposition to the Holy See in the matter.

On January 27, I spoke to Michael Hichborn about his own investigation. “The real focus of this whole thing,” Hichborn said, “should be Boeselager and the fact that he was in charge of an organization that was distributing contraception – and there’s no question about it.” Hichborn said that Boeselager’s own story changed, alternating between outright denial that he knew about the programs, and the claim that once he did know, he shut two out of three of them down. According to Hichborn, Boeselager’s stories are in conflict with one another – and with the known facts. “Boeselager said that it was a third party who was distributing the condoms. It was not. And there are three independently-verified sources that say that Malteser International itself was distributing the condoms.” Hichborn named UNAIDS, The Three Diseases Fund, and The World Health Organization as the three organizations that made these claims — claims he documented in his report.

Cardinal Burke also thought this should have been focus of any action. He told Ed Pentin that it concerned him “very much” that in the entire

unfortunate reaction to the grand master’s just action is the loss of the heart of what is at stake, namely, a grave violation of the Church’s moral teaching and, indeed, of the natural moral law by a high profile and historic Catholic institution.

It is clear that this concern for the moral law and the Church’s teaching is the driving force that animates Burke’s work as a cardinal, bishop, and pastor of souls. It has never been more clear that here is a prelate uninterested in power or prestige. His obvious concern for following the teachings of Our Lord seems to be why he has intervened as he has in this matter, just as it appears to be why he has voiced his concerns with increasing urgency about the Church’s change in praxis around Amoris Laetitia, and it is clear in his work on the dubia.

And for his service to the truth, they may very well try to accuse him of disobedience to the pope as pertains to the matter of the Knights of Malta, with disciplinary action a very real possibility. This faithful prelate’s allegiance to the Catholic Faith has increasingly managed to be the source of his own marginalization — and possible persecution — within the Church. May God bless him abundantly for his faithfulness, and preserve the Order that — for now — remains under his patronage.

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