The Plight of the Knights of Malta: 900-year-old Religious Order Mired in Financial Scandal and Vatican Intrigue

The Plight of the Knights of Malta: 900-year-old Religious Order Mired in Financial Scandal and Vatican Intrigue

[Summary/report from Catholic World News – April 27, 2017]

Special report: Internal documents show split within Knights of Malta

As leaders of the Knights of Malta prepare to elect a new grand master, contending factions have put forward radically different explanations for the dispute that caused a crisis in the ancient fraternal order.
CWN has obtained internal documents, circulated widely among members of the Knights of Malta, showing that the chancellor of the Order, Albrecht von Boeselager, was aware that the Order’s charity, Malteser International, had been involved in the distribution of contraceptives, and that an inquiry concluded that the policies of Malteser International were “inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church.” The documents also show that Pope Francis demanded action to end that involvement.
In January of this year, Fra Matthew Fessing, the grand master of the Order, responded to the Pope’s direction by demanding Boeselager’s resignation. When the chancellor refused to step down, Fessing acted on his initiative to oust him. Evidently some members of the Order’s leadership believed that Fessing had overstepped his authority, and the internal documents report that it was “apparent that two-thirds of the Sovereign Council will not agree” to remove Boeselager.
At this point Pope Francis intervened. He called Fessing to the Vatican. The grand master was told that he should come alone, and tell no one about the meeting. When he arrived, the Pope asked for his resignation, and Fessing obliged.
However, some members of the Order have evidently told Fessing that he should not have resigned, and suggest that he should be re-elected to his former post. Earlier this week it was revealed that Archbishop Angelo Becciu, named by Pope Francis as a special delegate to supervise changes in the Knights of Malta, had ordered Fessing not to attend the April 29 session at which the new grand master will be elected. Nevertheless Fessing has arrived in Rome, apparently intent on participating in the vote. Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register reports that the Vatican may have rescinded the order for him to stay away, perhaps because Fessing’s attendance could be required for a valid vote.
Informed sources within the Order say that the April 29 vote will reflect a bitter struggle for control of the Knights of Malta, with the German branch—heavily supported by the Vatican—likely to win control. But some members remain concerned about the direction the German leaders of the Order might take. Those concerns reflect both the dispute about contraceptive distribution and the involvement of the German branch in the acceptance of a large bequest from a shadowy anonymous donor.
A report commissioned by the order concluded that Malteser International, under Boeselager’s administration, became involved in contraceptive distribution, and concealed evidence of that involvement from the international leadership. Even after acknowledging the problem, the inquiry found, Malteser International continued to base its policies on assumptions that contraceptive use is an acceptable means of spacing births, that condoms could be used to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, that young people should be educated about contraceptives as an option, and in general that Catholic moral teachings may be disregarded if medical evidence weighs against them.
However, the dispute about contraceptives could eventually be seen as a secondary issue, in light of the questions arising from the acceptance of a $120 million donation to Malteser International. The donation comes from a trust that has been carefully set up to conceal the identity of the original donor, and the trust itself has been involved in litigation—with the Order’s charity once among its adversaries—over the handling of the funds. The most implacable critics of von Boeselager and the German branch of the Knights argue that accepting the questionable gift is evidence of corruption within the Order, and that revelations about the source could eventually bring disgrace to the Knights and to the Vatican.
Oddly, when Pope Francis set up a commission of five people to investigate the dispute between Fessing and von Boeselager, three of the members had some substantial involvement in the acceptance and/or administration of the anonymous gift. That fact that has reinforced concerns among some Knights that the Vatican had stacked the deck in favor of the German branch.

Written by Volodymyr Prezemyl

In January 2017, His Most Eminent Highness Fra’ Matthew Festing, the Grand Master of the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of Malta, (also known as the Knights of Malta), who is elected for life, abdicated his throne and office, at the request of Pope Francis.


At the moment, no reason has emerged. It is a mystery. Indeed, it is a mystery redolent of some gothic novel like The Name of the Rose, or some such similar mystery adventure and suitable material for some enthralling Hollywood blockbuster movie.

The Grand Master had suspended the Grand Chancellor, Albrecht, Freiherr (Baron) von Boeselager, because, following an investigative report, it had been revealed that he had been knowingly involved in the main international charity connected with the Order of Malta, Malteser International (MI), systematically distributing and promoting the use of condoms, oral contraceptives and other birth control drugs and devices expressly condemned as immoral by the Catholic Church.

In addition, unexplained financial dealings involving Boeselager and a number of his associates caused considerable disquiet to the Grand Master.

In January 2016, the Grand Master, Fra’ Matthew Festing, set up a Commission of Inquiry, consisting of Professor John Haas, Professor Luke Gormally and Dr Neil Weir, which produced a report showing conclusively that MI had been involved in distribution of contraceptives in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Kenya, South Sudan and other places.

This condemnation was confirmed by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Boeselager was identified as ultimately responsible, and initially he tried to cover up and conceal the facts.

The Grand Master several times called upon Boeselager to resign his post but he refused. He even refused when the Cardinal Patronus, Cardinal Raymond Burke, urged him to resign. Eventually the Grand Master suspended him.

Boeselager, a German, then flew to Munich and consulted with Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich-Freising, a well-known supporter of the dissent of Cardinal Walter Kasper on the controversial subject of giving Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried. The German bishops’ conference is hugely wealthy. The “Church tax” which every German Catholic has, by law to pay, brings in some $US5.3 billion per year to add to the existing income of the conference running to another $US3 or 4 billion. The result is that the Catholic Church is Germany’s second largest employer, after the government.

“Bishop of Bling” Franz-Peter Tebartz van Elst was criticized for spending $US43 million to remodel his residence and diocesan headquarters, and resigned, but Cardinal Reinhard Marx, now president of the German Bishops’ Conference and a member of the Pope’s Council of Cardinals, spent no less than $US186 million on his own new headquarters. He was not called upon to resign, however.

The fact is that the German bishops practically control the Vatican because they are so rich and the Vatican so poor. Indeed, the Vatican is constantly in danger of becoming insolvent and is easily manipulated by the German bishops. Unsurprisingly, then, Boeselager, went straight to see the all-powerful Cardinal Marx to plot and plan his re-instatement and his revenge against Fra’ Matthew Festing, the Grand Master.

Boeselager, a married man with family, used to be President of the German Order of Malta, earning a handsome salary from them whilst also being well paid by the Grand Magistry of the Order when serving as Grand Hospitaller, so that the Order of Malta is his whole career and he is very well paid for it.

By contrast, the Grand Master Festing, who spent his life, first, as a British Guards officer, and then as a fine art consultant with Sothebys, has, as Grand Master, barely taken half of the very small expenses allowance that he was given. He lived modestly and simply, as befits a religious, even though he is also a ruling prince. He enjoys massive support through the entire Order of Malta because of his genial and friendly personality and because of his selfless dedication to the Order and to the sick and the poor for decades as a humble, and fully religious, member of the Order.

As Grand Master, and following in the great Hospitaller traditions of the Order, he continued to serve the sick and the poor with his own hands, as his predecessors also did. Every week he would be seen in one of the piazzas of Rome ladling out soup and handing out food to the poor and dispossessed of the city of Rome. The palace which is the HQ of the Order has a medical and nursing clinic attached to it which is warmly and personally supported by Grand Master Festing.

Everyone loves him and everyone, except the allies of Boeselager, would love to see him returned to his throne as Grand Master. However, Boeselager (rarely seen aiding the poor with his own hands) was determined to fight his own sovereign and Grand Master. He quickly sought to be reinstated and, with the help of the German bishops, promptly enlisted the aid of senior prelates in the Vatican, including the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, to put pressure upon the Pope to force the Grand Master to reinstate Boeselager and then, himself, to abdicate.

Boeselager was thus very directly conspiring against his own sovereign and superior, to whom he had made a vow of obedience, with the clandestine aim of over-throwing him and then, effectively, taking control of the Order himself, with his German colleagues in support.

In 2014, he and his German colleagues, particularly the current President of the Order of Malta in Germany, Prince Erich von Lobkowicz, conspired to oust the majority of the existing Sovereign Council of the Order, the governing body, and replace the majority with Germans. This they succeeded in doing at the Chapter-General in 2014.

Like the rest of the Catholic Church, the Order of Malta is heavily dominated by Germans and they, like the German bishops, tend to be dissenters from Catholic teaching on matters of morality and sacramental theology. They tend to adopt the Cardinal Kasper line on the controversial issue of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, for example. At the same time, they see themselves as having a God-given right to dominate the Order of Malta and its governance. Given the powerful backing of the super-rich German bishops’ conference, this they have readily been able to do so that the Sovereign Council is now dominated by Germans.

Now, thanks to that same financial power, they have been able to get the condom-approving Boeselager back into office, ousting the Prince and Grand Master who is meant to rule for life, and even to get the backing of the Pope, despite the fact that Boeselager, as he has had to admit following the Commission report, approved and oversaw the flagrant breaching of Catholic moral teaching by the main charitable body associated with the Order, Malteser International.

Boeselager seemed determined to have his own coup d’état against his own Prince and Grand Master and somehow contrived to get the Vatican to support this rebellion. In short, the Vatican found itself backing the man who was disloyal to his prince and superior, disloyal to Catholic teaching and thus disloyal to God.

How did this extraordinary situation come about?

The answer lies in murky, behind-the-scenes financial funny business in the context of a Vatican suffering from financial difficulties – financial funny business that Grand Master Festing, having discovered, sought to rectify but was opposed by his own Grand Chancellor, Boeselager, and his rich and powerful German colleagues.

The Grand Master of the Order of Malta is unique in today’s world. He is a sovereign ruling prince of a sovereign state, with ambassadors and passports, based in a palace in Rome, the head of an ancient order of chivalry and the religious superior of a 900-year old religious order of the Catholic Church founded in Jerusalem by Blessed Gerard to aid sick and poor pilgrims. He is the only ruling and sovereign prince, and head of state, in the world today, who is also a fully professed Roman Catholic religious in vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Hence the motto of the Order of Malta is servi Dominorum nostrorum infirmorum pauperum – “servants of our Lords the sick poor”.

By this supremely Evangelical and Christian mission and spirit, royalty, nobility and the rich of Christendom undertook by religious vow to serve, with their own hands, the sick and the poor, as if they were their lords and masters and as if they were Christ Himself. The greatest and richest of the world are to serve the lowest and the poorest of the world, and that personally, in imitation of God who humbled Himself to come down from His heavenly throne to serve mankind. That is the Order’s supremely noble and supremely Christian vocation.

Later the Order took on a military role to protect the pilgrims coming to the Holy Land and so their members became knights as well as nurses and serving brethren. The core members of the Order, the First Class (akin to the First Order in any religious order) are fully professed religious in full vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They are neither monks nor priests but religious knights, serving the poor when they were not defending the Holy Places and Christendom with their swords and their lives.

It was of these religious knights (and others like them) that our Lord spoke, when He appeared to St Bridget of Sweden, the great saint of chivalry, and said to her, in praise of chivalry: “A knight who keeps the laws of his order is exceedingly dear to me. For, if it is hard for a monk to wear his heavy habit, it is harder still for a knight to wear his heavy armour.”

The professed religious knights, called Knights of Justice, remain at the heart of the Order of Malta to this day. Although the Order is now exclusively hospitaller, it nonetheless retains memorials of its military role which it has replaced with the role of defence of the faith. Its twin roles are thus obsequium pauperum – care of the poor – and tuitio Fidei – defence of the Faith.

Of this ancient, noble and religious Order, the Grand Master is the sovereign. He is also the Chief Executive Officer of an international charity that dispenses nearly $US 1 billion dollars of aid every year around the world.

As a sovereign, he is a recognized head of state, recognized by the United Nations and by some 106 countries around the world with whom the Order has diplomatic relations and to many of whom it sends ambassadors. The Order sends an ambassador to the Vatican which also recognizes its sovereignty.

As a sovereign and head of state, the Grand Master is a king or prince and cannot be “sacked” or “deposed”, even by the Pope, although, as a religious and religious superior, he does owe obedience, in religious matters only, to the Pope. But the Pope has no right to “fire” or “dismiss” him, any more than the Pope has the right to “fire” or “dismiss” the US President.

Why, then, did Fra’ Matthew Festing accede to the Pope’s request to abdicate the Magistral throne?

Nobody seems to know exactly – except the Pope and the former Grand Master. But there is a background to the abdication which opens a murky corner of financial deals and transactions and goes a long way to explaining the mystery. It is a tale that involves high prelates in the Vatican, high officers of the Order of Malta operating behind the back of the Grand Master, French benefactors, Swiss lawyers and unexplained, and somewhat murky transactions, at the Vatican Bank, the so-called Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR).

When wealthy Frenchman, M. Jehan du Tour, inherited a foundation in Lichtenstein, possessing around 120 million Swiss francs, in his will he appointed as beneficiaries, two relatives and two charitable associations. The beneficiary associations were the Hospitaller Order of St John of God and the French Association of the Order of Malta. The testamentary executrix of the will, a Swiss lawyer, Ms Ariane Slinger, resident in Geneva, took charge of matters and decided to create a New Zealand-based trust, called Caritas pro Vitae GRADU Charitable Trust (CPVG), of which she became a trustee.

She began, somewhat controversially, to treat the will trust as a discretionary trust which meant that the trustees had a discretion about when and to whom the funds would be disbursed. Ms Slinger is the director of a company called Ace International SA which specializes in asset management and offshore funds and capital management. Ariane Slinger is the Chief Executive Officer, Snr Javier Otero is the Vice-President and the company’s address is Place de Saint-Gervais 1, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland.

She has interests in many companies based in tax havens such as the Bahamas, Dubai and Russia (Selectus Capital Limited, Gothard Capital Limited, Currency Capital Limited, Maximus Capital Limited, Yanni Management Limited, Mickey Management Limited and others) and through such companies, she makes her offshore financial network available to her clients. Ms Slinger is mentioned many times in the offshore leaks database called the Panama leaks database.

It is believed that Ms Slinger has numerous connections with the Vatican and with high prelates in the Vatican and that she has been involved in numerous business arrangements involving the Vatican or, at least, is aware of them and knows important details about them. This, it is believed, has given Ms Slinger considerable leverage over the Vatican since, it seems, she knows a great deal that is confidential about Vatican financial affairs.

The Vatican, because of its sovereign status, is responsible for supervising and policing its one and only Bank, the IOR. Although, in theory, the IOR staff and management claim to be meeting all international banking and anti-money laundering standards, in fact, they fall some way short of meeting them. The risk is that the IOR becomes a target for money-laundering and suspect financial dealings and incurs the censure of the international banking community and governments world-wide. The IOR needs to take care of its future compliance with the international rules.

Even governments make use of the IOR and it is said that the British Secret Service, MI6, paid some of its international operatives and agents via the IOR. In 2012, after the death of M. Jehan du Tour, it seems that the funds were not getting to the proper beneficiaries. Eventually, some of the beneficiaries decided to sue Ms Slinger and the Trust in the courts of Geneva, Switzerland, in order to ensure that they received their share of the funds bequeathed to them.

At that time the Grand Chancellor of the Order of Malta was the Chevalier Jean-Pierre Mazery and it is understood that when he learned of the lawsuit, he caused the Order of Malta to join in with the legal action. The Geneva prosecutor was also informed because it was also suspected a criminal offence had been committed and proceedings were even being considered against Ms Slinger.

One of the prime difficulties in the situation is that nobody seems to be aware of the origin of the funds originally held by M. Jehan du Tour, the benefactor. Moreover, many suspect that “Jehan du Tour” is not the benefactor’s real name. That creates an immediate regulatory concern since money that is being laundered will almost always be money that has no clear origin.

In such circumstances, recipients and beneficiaries need to be very cautious about accepting such funds from uncertain sources until it is clear what is their true and authenticated origin. Likewise, the executrix of the will, Ms Slinger, would need to take care about the source of the funds.

Around the time when the Trust was being set up, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi was then Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva. Archbishop Tomasi created a foundation (Caritas in Veritate) becoming its President, and this foundation was, it is understood, a recipient of funds from CPVG, the Trust run by Ms Slinger.

Boeselager is now a member of the Board of this foundation.

Archbishop Tomasi called upon Mr Marc Odendall, a French and German national, and member of the Order of Malta since 2011, to serve as Treasurer of the Caritas in Veritate foundation. Mr Odendall is a banker with extensive experience, especially in media and technology, having worked for Morgan Guarantee, J P Morgan in Paris, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and Credit Suisse First Boston.

Alice de la Rochefoucauld was appointed director of Caritas in Veritate. She is the daughter of the present Grand Hospitaller of the Order of Malta, Dominique, Prince de la Rochefoucauld-Montbel. Ms Marie Therese Pictet Althann, Ambassador and Permanent Observer of the Order of Malta to the United Nations, was appointed a board member of Tomasi’s foundation.

Archbishop Tomasi, who is very close to the Vatican’s Secretary of State, arranged for both Odendall and Pictet to be given the decoration of Knight and Dame Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great, a papal knightly order.

Through Caritas in Veritate are organized various conferences with which is connected M. Marwan Senhaoui, a Lebanese banker with Société Générale de Banque and the President of the Order of Malta in Lebanon. M. Sehnaoui had become well known in the Order of Malta since he was appointed by the Grand Master as Magistral Delegate of the British Association of the Order of Malta in 2012.

This was following internal problems and certain allegations being made about permitting a man to serve mass in the Conventual Church of the British Association at the Hospital of St John, St John’s Wood, London, who was later convicted of having child pornography. In fact, the Board of the Hospital of St John, entirely separate from the Order of Malta, have responsibility for the Church.

However, an Archdiocesan safeguarding report found that nothing of serious matter had occurred at the Conventual Church which also serves as the Hospital chapel. However, certain members of the British Association, known to be connected with Boeselager and Sehnaoui, pressed for an internal Commission of Inquiry which was staffed by appointees of the Archdiocese.

Surprisingly, the Hospital Board declined to assist and sought to deflect the blame upon the Grand Priory of England (the professed religious of the British Knights of Malta) but only partly succeeded, both the Order and the Hospital being criticised by the internal Commission.

Sehnaoui completely failed to understand the real relationships within the British Association and left leaving behind a hornet’s nest that only succeeded in getting the British Association the worst media coverage that it had ever had in its history and all for no real purpose. He also left soured relationships within the British Association which are still unhealed to this day.

He was, in short, a disaster as Delegate. But he is a close associate of Archbishop Tomasi, Marc Odendall and Boeselager. Odendall has since been appointed to the board of the Vatican Financial Information Authority (Autorità di Informazione Finanaziaria – AIF) which regulates and supervises Vatican financial affairs, including at the IOR and is the Vatican’s financial intelligence unit. Established by Pope Benedict XVI it was later confirmed by Pope Francis.

Tomasi, at the end of his appointment as Permanent Vatican Observer in Geneva to the United Nations, was appointed a member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Tomasi, Odendall and Sehnaoui are in close touch with members of the Order of Malta who would like to change its ancient and distinctive character.

A small but influential group within the Order of Malta would like to eliminate the religious character of the Order, jettison the Knights of Justice and their full religious vows, jettison the noble character of the Order, and turn the Order into yet another, run-of-the-mill and common-place secularised non-governmental organization (NGO). The German friends of Boeselager, like Prince Erich von Lobkowicz, the President of the German Association of the Order, would not be unhappy to see the fully professed knights and their full religious vows reduced or abolished.

This, of course, is an astonishingly disloyal, not to say treacherous, attitude to the Order they claim to serve, since it would rip the religious heart out of the Order, a religious heart that has been at the very centre of the Order since its foundation by the first fully professed Knight of Justice, the Blessed Brother Gerard, the founder, in 1098, of the entire Order of Malta.

In short, these subversive members of the Order who, like Lobkowicz, want to minimise the professed or those who, like others, want to get rid of both the religious and the noble character altogether, and thus effectively secularise the Order of Malta, are like the French revolutionaries of the 18th century who wanted to secularise all the institutions of Europe and emasculate the power and influence of the Catholic Church. It is truly ironic that, within the Order of Malta, one of the oldest, most loyal and most faithful of Roman Catholic institutions, whose task is to nurse the sick poor and defend the Faith, there should be those who treacherously wish to destroy its very traditions. They are like a Fifth Column attacking the army from within and behind, like traitors and deserters.

It is no surprise, then, as we shall see, that one of the papal commission appointed to “investigate” the suspension of Boeselager was Count Jacques de Liedekerke, a lawyer from a Belgian noble family, and who, it is believed, is a Freemason. It is further ironic that, although the Pope is reputed to have told Cardinal Burke that he wished to see the Order “cleaned out of Freemasonry” (there are, in fact, almost no Freemasons in the Order), the Pope, advised by the Secretary of State, went on to appoint one of the very few Freemasons in the Order to be a member of the papal commission investigating the suspension of Boeselager!

The more one learns, the more one realises that, when dealing with these subversives, what is said with the mouth, is the very reverse of what is believed in the heart and done with the hands. Although they hotly deny it, these subversives are clearly set upon a secret course to destroy the Order of Malta and replace it with something entirely different, secular and emasculated and no longer fully Catholic. It would be hard to find anything quite so subversive and deceitful as this hidden campaign to overthrow the Order, its Catholicity and its Catholic traditions.

As mentioned above, at the Chapter General of 2014, Boeselager and his colleagues engineered a change of membership of the Sovereign Council of the Order so that he and his German colleagues became the dominating power. Boeselager was the grey eminence who effectively directed the Chapter-General of May 2014 that replaced the Italians from all top positions in the Order of Malta, getting himself appointed Grand Chancellor so that the other officers effectively report to him.

The Receiver of the Common Treasure (a kind of minister of economy), Janos Esterhàzy de Galàntha, is a noble Hungarian transplanted to Switzerland where he worked for decades in the legal department of Philip Morris. But he is more German than anything else and a close ally of Boeselager. Winfried Henckel von Donnersmark, another German banker, had a long career at the top of private banking at Société Gènèrale in Geneva, who have had numerous financial dealings with the Vatican and the IOR. He is another German member of Sovereign Council and a close ally of Boeselager.

Under the nose of Henckel, an administrative employee of the Grand Magistry, Marianna de Sio, had charge of a considerable property portfolio of the Order. The Order’s property portfolio is one of the largest in Italy and yet it only managed to generate some 3 million Euros per annum. It seems that some properties were being rented to friends and associates at considerably less than the market value, thus reducing the Order’s income substantially.

De Sio is said to have been employed on a very substantial salary but was “let go” from office, with a large pay off, when it was found that a number of properties had been allowed to be run down and were then sold at an undervalue to private persons at reduced prices. Henckel is also a close associate of Prince Eric von Lobkowicz, President of the German Association of the order of Malta, and his brother, Prince Johannes von Lobkowicz, Procurator of the Grand Priory of Bohemia of the Order of Malta.

Henckel is careful to pass information to them which might advance and benefit what might be called the “German interest” in the Order of Malta, led by Boeselager. Henckel has a degree in theology and his brother-in-law recently sought the role of Prelate of the Order a kind of chaplain, junior to the Cardinal Patronus, Cardinal Burke.

Henckel has a fine understanding of the clerical networks and machinations of the Vatican and uses his knowledge to good effect to assist the “German interest” in the Order.

Tellingly, the “German interest” has little or no time for the professed religious who are at the centre of the Order (and include the Grand Master, of course, as their superior) and not a single member of the German Association of the Order of Malta is fully professed and in vows. They simply have zero Knights of Justice (i.e. fully professed religious knights who take the full Evangelical counsels, the advice given by Christ Himself to his followers to live the fullest Christian life, as related in the Bible, namely the vows of religions whereby they vow poverty, chastity and obedience, as monks and other religious do).

Indeed, such a solemn religious vocation is actually discouraged by the German Association under President Lobkowicz. There is one German-speaking member of the Sovereign Council who is professed and in full vows but he is a Tyrolian Austrian, not German. That is Fra’ Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein, the former Grand Commander (who is the senior of the professed after the Grand Master).

Since the more or less forced abdication of Grand Master Festing, Hoffmann has been appointed the Lieutenant of the Order. He remains so until a new Grand Master can be elected at the end of April. He, too, is a close ally of Boeselager and thus effectively part of the “German interest”.

The only clearly non-Germanic new officer of the Order is Dominique Prince de la Rochefoucauld-Montbel, also a former banker and an astute politician who is careful to side with the winning team. Since that currently seems to be the “German Interest”, Rochefoucauld is presently siding with Boeselager and can be counted as a part of the “German interest”.

Another German member of the Order, Ernst von Freyberg, is the current treasurer of the German Association of the Order of Malta, but he was previously the President of the IOR from February 2013 to July 2014. However, on 15 December 2016, three new members of the Vatican Bank (IOR) Board of Superintendance were appointed. One of them was none other than Georg Freiherr von Boeselager, another banker but, more importantly, the younger brother of the reinstated Grand Chancellor of the Order of Malta.

Things were beginning to look altogether rather too “cozy”.

After the Sovereign Council elections in 2014, Boeselager ceased to be Grand Hospitaller (in charge of the charity work of the order) and became the new Grand Chancellor (the Grand Master’s Prime Minister). He decided to consider certain proposals of Ms Slinger, through a transaction under du Tour’s will.

These proposals of Ms Slinger would, it seems, involve the Order ceasing to pursue her in the Geneva courts and would thus greatly assist in relieving her from the prospect of being prosecuted. It was thus of considerable importance to Slinger that she get the Order to agree the deal. It would, it seems, effectively authorise all her actions retroactively and thus exonerate her completely. She was, we may assume, very anxious that this deal be agreed by the Order.

It further seems that she was making threats to expose what she knew about the Vatican finances and the finances of certain high prelates in the Vatican, knowing how sensitive the Vatican can be to such accusations. Vatican sensitivity arose not least from the memory of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal in 1982, involving Vatican financial adviser, Roberto Calvi and his membership in the illegal Masonic Lodge Propaganda Due (aka P2). Calvi had been found dead, hanging from London’s Blackfriars Bridge in suspicious circumstances.

In July 2014, Odendall prepared a detailed report, with assistance from Sehnaoui, whom he met in May 2014 during a pilgrimage to Lourdes. A busy email interchange began between Odendall, Boeselager, Sehnaoui and Tomasi. Slinger addressed Archbishop Tomasi as “Dear Silvano”. It seems that even the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, was part of the communication circle. This is not surprising given the prospect of unsavoury revelations about the finances of the Vatican, and high prelates within it, being revealed, if Ms Slinger did not get the deal she wanted. That would certainly be something that the Secretary of State would not want to see reported adversely in the media.

However, the Grand Master declined any such transaction. He was clearly concerned about the source of the money being gifted to the Order. Any responsible charity must take care to know what is the source of any money that it receives, lest it unwittingly receive money that has been laundered or which might be the proceeds of crime or the proceeds of other forms of exploitation. This applies particularly to any international Catholic relief agency.

Thus the Grand Master was simply acting with proper and responsible care and caution. Others, however, were much less cautious.

The day following the suspension of Boeselager, two high officers of the Order asked the Grand Master for authority to sign the transaction with Slinger.

Grand Master Festing again declined.

Panic now began to set in because Slinger was starting to make threats. She knew some of the internal financial deals and workings of the Vatican, including we must presume, some that were not entirely straightforward. She was, it is now believed, indicating that, if she continued to be sued, or was prosecuted, she would tell the world what she knew about those internal Vatican financial dealings and would not hesitate to publicise the names of certain high-ranking Vatican officials and their connections with the transactions and deals.

The only way to prevent such revelations was to agree the deal but the Grand Master had now become an obstacle to that agreement. Vatican officials and the Secretary of State were now, it seems, becoming seriously anxious, not least as to what Ms Slinger might reveal.

Boeselager was also concerned, it is believed, since he, too, had dealings with Ms Slinger. He needed to be reinstated to get the deal agreed, and he needed to get rid of the Grand Master so that he would not block any deal. That would be no easy task.

However, he knew that he would get full support from the Vatican since certain high officials were in danger of having their financial transactions revealed and in a potentially embarrassing way. Vatican aid was soon readily provided The Cardinal Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, came to the rescue.

Within days of the suspension of Boeselager from the office of Grand Chancellor, the Pope, on the advice of Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, appointed, under the Secretary of State, an investigative commission of five persons to “investigate” the suspension of Grand Chancellor Boeselager. This was an extraordinarily arrogant and illegal move since the Vatican Secretary of State has no legal power whatsoever over the Order of Malta. It would be like the Vatican appointing a commission to investigate the removal of the US Secretary of State or the CIA chief or the National Security Advisor and then telling the President of the United States that he must abide by the report of the commission.

It is simply no business of the Cardinal Secretary of State and he has no power to do such a thing. The Pope and the Congregation for Religious have spiritual authority over the religious life of the Knights of Justice (those in full vows of religion of poverty, chastity and obedience) but that is all. But the Secretary of State, in charge of the foreign relations of the Holy See, has absolutely no authority over the Order of Malta.

It was a ridiculously arrogant act on the part of the Secretary of State.

Unsurprisingly, Grand Master Festing told the Cardinal Secretary of State to mind his own business. Cardinal Parolin then approached the Pope to get the Pope to force Grand Master Festing to accept the commission and to do so “under obedience”. To do so would have been an abuse of the moral power of a religious superior and it is particularly ironic given that one of the criticisms levelled against Grand Master Festing by Boeselager was that he had asked him to resign “under obedience” and this was an abuse of power.

Boeselager and Cardinal Parolin were now asking the Pope to do to Grand Master Festing the very thing that Boeselager and Parolin objected to Grand Master Festing doing to Boeselager. Boeselager and Parolin have one rule for themselves and quite another for everyone else, it seems! Such blatant hypocrisy on the part of Boeselager (and the Cardinal Secretary) was simply breath-taking.

But there is more and it is worse.

The investigating commission included among its members some names that will now be familiar to us. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Mr Marc Odendall and M. Marwen Senhaoui were appointed to be members of the papal commission set up to investigate the suspension of their close friend and ally, Boeselager.

The very men who stood to benefit by the reinstatement of Boeselager, were now going to “investigate” the very same man and for the very same thing – his suspension and reinstatement! It would be hard to image a more obvious, nay blatant, conflict of interest in any commission of inquiry. This is naked corruption at the highest levels. It stinks and reeks of conspiracy and collusion.

The report was thus a foregone conclusion: the report concluded that Boeselager should be reinstated. A commission consisting largely of Boeselager’s friends, sharing financial interests with him, fearing the same problems as him if Ms Slinger made unsavoury revelations, who were as concerned as him that an agreement be made with Ms Slinger to protect her and the Vatican and to protect them all, who knew this could only happen if Boeselager was reinstated, were asked to judge if he should be reinstated.

Of course they said yes. The objectivity of this commission was wholly compromised and the whole business smelt rotten. Even the Holy Father found the commission’s report too hard to stomach but the members of the commission refused to budge or change anything. Too much was riding on it for them.

This is the new style of management at the Secretariat of State, under Cardinal Parolin, and the Order of Malta, under Boeselager. But how long can such kind of behaviour last? It may be tolerated by the Vatican but it will not be tolerated by the secular and financial authorities.

To add to the mix, Boeselager’s brother, Georg von Boeselager, having been appointed to the IOR as a director, the whole affair now had a convenient “family” tone to it, a Boeselager in charge of the Order of Malta and its money and another Boeselager directing the IOR, the Vatican bank.

Where do the serpentine connections end?

As we have seen above, Ms Slinger had, it seems, been disbursing at least some funds to Malteser International, by agreement with Boeselager, and, moreover, also to a charity founded by Archbishop Tomasi. There was a lack of transparency in these transactions as far as the Sovereign Council of the Order of Malta was concerned and the Grand Master was being kept in the dark by Boeselager, in theory his own Prime Minister, as to what was happening under the aegis of the Order’s name and logo.

It seems that Boeselager explained this lack of transparency away by telling the Sovereign Council, of which he is both a member and the Grand Chancellor (and effective Prime Minister), that Malteser International is a separate charity from the Grand Magistry, Sovereign Council and government of the Order of Malta, and that thus he had only a limited duty to keep the Sovereign Council and the Grand Master informed. This, of course, is an astonishing claim for him to make and is a rotten defence of his failure to keep his own Grand Master informed.

Since the work of Malteser International, which was originally an offshoot of the German Association of the Order, is conducted under the name and aegis of the Order of Malta, the Grand Master, as one can imagine, was not at all pleased by this lack of transparency. Nevertheless, Boeselager simply ignored the Grand Master, as he usually did when it suited him. And yet Boeselager, as Grand Chancellor, was supposed to be the first minister of the Grand Master.

Since the report by the papal commission, curial archbishop, Angelo Becciu, Substitute of the Cardinal Secretary of State, and close friend and ally of Boeselager, has been appointed “special delegate” to the Order of Malta, a kind of “overseer”. This, too, would be entirely illegal if it had not been rather weakly agreed to by the Sovereign Council of the Order. Becciu is now throwing his weight around as if he were the ruler of the Order which, of course he is not.

On 24 March 2017, an article appeared in the German magazine, Bild, giving more information and asking searching questions. It seems that, of the fund bequeathed by the French benefactor, M. Jehan du Tour, amounting to some 120 million Swiss francs, some 30 million Swiss francs was bequeathed to the Order of Malta in France but has since been claimed, on behalf of the whole Order, by Boeselager.

As we shall see, that 30 million is now currently in the hands of the Vatican holding on trust until further notice. Bild asked many questions.

– Was the 30 million Swiss francs now to go to the whole Order, negotiated by Boeselager?

– Was Grand Master Festing asked to abdicate by Pope Francis, because he wished to know more about the source of the funds before he would agree to any arrangements with Ms Slinger, particularly whilst the Geneva Public Prosecutor’s Office was interested in her?

– Did the Pope ask Grand Master Festing to abdicate because the financial embarrassment “could not be sorted out whilst [he] remained Grand Master” since the Grand Master had declined to contract with Ms Slinger?

– Was the Grand Master being effectively squeezed out because he was showing the sort of caution that should be shown when money is offered without knowing its source?

– Why weren’t others in the Order exercising the same essential caution?

– By what right did the Pope claim to “advise” (for which read “command”) the Order of Malta what to do?

– How much of this was coming from the Secretariat of State, with its close relationship with Boeselager?

– How could the Secretary of State persuade the Pope to appoint Archbishop Becciu to “oversee” the Order when the Order is sovereign and the Vatican has no right to “oversee” (i.e. rule) it?

In an interview with Nikolaus Harbusch of Bild, Boeselager confirmed that the first tranche of a 30 million Swiss franc donation had been made by the Trust. Boeselager claimed that the Order had examined the provenance of the sum and the reliability of the person from whom Boeselager had agreed, in writing on 1 March 2017, to accept the funds. This person was identified as “Ariane S.”, responsible in Geneva for the creation and management of the New Zealand-registered foundation, Caritas Pro Vitae Gradu Charitable Trust (CPVG). This is the same Ms Slinger, mentioned above, who specialises in offshore and trust companies with companies in the Virgin Islands, Bahamas and other offshore tax havens.

Bild confirmed that the Order of Malta itself had lodged a complaint with the Geneva Prosecutor’s Office against the Trustee of CPVG on suspicion of fraud, but then withdrew the complaint shortly before the signing of the framework agreement on 1 March 2017, by which time Boeselager had been reinstated and was able to secure the deal. Notice of the signing on 1 March 2017 of the agreement with CPVG was posted on 11 March 2017 by press release on the Order’s own website here:

According to Boeselager in the interview with Bild, the total sum to be received by the order of Malta is split over seven years and the first transfer included three million Swiss francs. However, Boeselager admitted that he did not know the donor save that he was from a “rich French family”. Boeselager claimed that the funds were “already transferred before the Second World War into a trust fund”. He also confirmed that the Order of Malta does not know either the real identity or the date of birth of the mysterious M. du Tour

Furthermore, the donor to the Order is now CPVG, according to Boeselager, not M. du Tour, who apparently wanted to remain anonymous. Harbusch asked directly whether this was all about “black money” and whether Boeselager was a “black money baron” in the history of the Order. Boeselager denied this emphatically.

The sum of 30 million represents a quarter of the trust fund. Although Boeselager says that the matter had been examined and the complaint against the trustee (Ms Slinger) has been withdrawn, nevertheless it remains the case that the real source of the money is unclear.

Following international money-laundering rules, the Order of Malta has, in the past, been careful to avoid accepting funds whose source is uncertain. The sum of 30 million is, according to Boeselager, by far the largest single donation to the Order of the last ten years.

Nevertheless, as Grand Master Festing insisted, the normal rules and principles should still apply. But it seems that the real urgency for the reinstatement of Boeselager was to restore Ms Slinger and so protect various prelates and officials in the Vatican and members of the Order from any unfortunate revelations by her. That, of course, is no good reason for avoiding proper and accepted practice in handling donations.

Confronted by Harbusch with the claim that Boeselager wanted to turn the Order into a standard, secular NGO, he vigorously disagreed. But many within the Order now have their doubts about the long-term plans of the newly reinstated Grand Chancellor and his associates of the “German interest”.

Boeselager admitted that he was, in fact, now working on restricting the power of the Grand Master and thus, effectively, giving more power to officers of the Order like himself. This is, perhaps, not surprising, given that the Grand Master, applying the accepted and traditional rules, declined to approve any arrangement with Ms Slinger and thus thwarted Boeselager’s schemes.

It is not surprising that Boeselager who, as a married man and not in religious vows does not qualify to be elected Grand Master, now seeks to restrict the powers of any future Grand Master and give more power to lower officers like himself. This is all the more so given that Grand Master Festing had acted to stop the breach of Catholic morality in the wide distribution of condoms and contraceptives by Malteser International, under Boeselager’s oversight.

It is widely known within the government of the Order that Boeselager has the habit of acting secretively, saying little and keeping information to himself, including information that should have been communicated to the Grand Master and to the Sovereign Council of the Order. The existence of the Swiss millions, managed by CPVG, was one of the points that Boeselager had “kept secret from the Grand Master,” according to Italian journalist, Sandro Magister.

When Grand Master Festing learnt of their existence, he set up an investigation commission. This commission was to investigate the opaque circumstances of the alleged donation and to look at the roles of Boeselager and the three other leading members of the Order, already mentioned above: Archbishop Tomasi, Marc Odendall and Marwan Sehnaoui. But, as we have seen, the Vatican Secretary of State tried to circumvent this internal inquiry by getting a papal commission appointed with these very same figures as members.

This was a wholly illegal interference with the sovereign affairs of the Order of Malta designed to protect these individuals and to prevent a proper and justified investigation of them, and the associated transaction, by the Order. Boeselager thus persuaded the Vatican Secretary of State to use illegal means to protect him and his associates, to restore him to office and to give him effective overall power by the devious means of persuading the Pope (through the Secretary of State) to press the Grand Master to abdicate.

It was a breath-takingly shabby business and proved Boeselager utterly unfit to govern the Order of Malta or to hold office within it.

The report of the Order’s own inquiry commission prompted Grand Master Festing to file a complaint against the trustee of CPVG at the Geneva Public Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecutor’s office acted promptly and blocked the entire fund’s 120 million Swiss francs. After Grand Master Festing suspended Boeselager as Grand Chancellor of the Order on 6 December 2016, Boeselager turned to Cardinal Secretary Parolin for help, as we have seen.

Pope Francis Steps In

On 22 December 2016, Pope Francis was persuaded to set up the papal investigation commission. This five-member commission, as we have seen, included members who had a close connection with CPVG, and are close associates of Boeselager: Archbishop Tomasi, Odendall and Sehnaoui. The other members of the papal commission were the Belgian lawyer, Jacques de Liedekerke, already mentioned, and the Jesuit Gianfranco Ghirlanda, ally of Cardinal Parolin.

Journalist, Sandro Magister, says that de Liedekerke is also “very close” to Boeselager. In other words, the Pope, on the recommendation of the Cardinal Secretary, had set up an entirely conflicted and self-serving commission, as we have seen.

Unsurprisingly then, their personal involvement in the Geneva CPVG trust fund, which was itself part of the Order of Malta commission’s investigation, prompted Grand Master Festing to reject a collaboration with the papal commission “with reference to the sovereignty of the Order”.

How could Grand Master Festing allow the Order to be investigated by the very people whom the Order itself was investigating? And the Vatican should never have set up such an obviously conflicted commission. But it was persuaded to do so ultimately at the behest of Boeselager who was protecting himself, his associates, Vatican prelates and Ms Slinger, in order to protect his associates from her probable revelations and, above all, using these facts to get himself reinstated and, what is more, to augment his own power in the Order of Malta, hugely and perhaps permanently.

It is amazing that Boeselager has been allowed to get away with such manipulation. It seems clear that it is the fears of the Vatican about revelations by Ms Slinger that has allowed him to get away with it – so far. It should also be remembered that, almost simultaneously with the outbreak of the conflict with Boeselager, his brother Georg was appointed to a leadership role in the Vatican Bank, the IOR.

The protests of Grand Master Festing against these “conflicts of interest” in the papal commission met with deaf ears in the Vatican.

Given the Vatican’s usual snail-like pace, the papal commission worked at lightning speed, in indecent haste and in record time, at a speed hitherto unheard of in the Vatican, and quickly called for Boeselager to be reinstated. As already noted, it was a foregone conclusion.

The final touch was for Boeselager and Cardinal Parolin to persuade the Pope to press Grand Master Festing to abdicate on the entirely spurious basis that matters “could not be resolved” while he remained Grand Master.

Doubtless feeling that his attempts to follow the proper and accepted international rules were being thwarted, Grand Master Festing agreed to abdicate. Perhaps he felt that he might, himself, become tainted by these financial shenanigans if he did not abdicate since he clearly was unable to fight against the “German interest”, Boeselager, the German bishops, the Secretary of State and the Vatican, all at once.

His abdication was accepted by the Sovereign Council who, dominated by the “German interest”, were not disposed to investigate properly but, instead, voted to agree with the reinstatement of the now all-powerful Boeselager. The next step is the plans of the “German Interest” to secularise and emasculate the Order of Malta and turn it into a mere secular NGO thus mutilating and obliterating its 900-year traditions and its sacred, religious character.

If that succeeds, then the Order of Malta will be no more. It will simply become indistinguishable from any other run-of-the-mill international charity like Missio, Caritas, the Red Cross or Medecins sans Frontieres.

It would be an act of vandalism on a grand scale and comparable, spiritually, to the spiritual vandalism of the French, Russian or Spanish Revolutions – an act of senseless, mindless and pointless destruction, made all the worse by being an act of suicidal self-destruction.

Meantime, Pope Francis had appointed Archbishop Angelo Becciu as Special Delegate exercising a kind of control over the Order in a manner that would be wholly illegal if it had not been rather weakly agreed to by the Sovereign Council, dominated as it is by the “German interest”. Boeselager was now back at his desk and signing the framework agreement with CPVG and Ms Slinger, collecting the first three million for the Order, all in indecent haste, given the circumstances.

This agreement, and effective retroactive approval of Ms Slinger’s actions, resulted in the Swiss prosecution authorities unfreezing the 120 million in the Trust fund and dropping further investigation of Ms Slinger.

Meantime, Edward Pentin, Vatican reporter and journalist at the National Catholic Register in the USA, had already made contact with Ms Slinger in January 2017 to ask her about the whole affair and her involvement.

Her response?

She threatened to sue him if he mentioned that she had any connection with the Order of Malta! It is believed that both she and Boeselager have threatened to sue a number of newspapers in Europe for telling the story.

The position now is that the nearly insolvent Vatican has decided to take charge of the 30 million, which was due to be given to the Order of Malta, and is apparently holding it, in the IOR, on “trust” for the Order. However, the Vatican managers are being paid handsomely for looking after this fund.

In a few days’ time, the Council Complete of State of the Order of Malta will vote for a new Grand Master (or vote to continue the existing Lieutenancy, if they cannot agree on a Grand Master).

Already the “German interest” is moving to get the Order’s lawyers to agree that the Council Complete need not wait for deadlock but can move straight to electing a temporary Lieutenant which will doubtless be controlled by the “German interest” and so enable them to change the Order to suit their interests (e.g. by further restricting the power of the Grand Master and augmenting the power of the other officers like Boeselager).

Many consider that the Code and Constitution of the Order do not allow such a short-circuiting but this may not stop the “German interest” from getting their way. There are only a tiny number of possible candidates for the office of Grand Master because the Grand Master must be both a fully professed Knight of Justice in full vows of religion as well as coming from the highest noble grade, that of Honour and Devotion. Boeselager and those not in vows are excluded (which is doubtless why he wishes to curtail the power of the Grand Master in order to have more power himself).

Many of the present available candidates are too old or otherwise unsuitable.

Fra’ Matthew Festing still looks like the best candidate and he enjoys huge support through the entire Order of Malta because of his genial and friendly personality and because of his selfless dedication to the Order and to the sick and the poor for decades as a religious member of the Order. As mentioned above, everyone loves him and everyone, except the tiny number in the “German interest”, would love to see him returned to his throne as Grand Master.

Now Cardinal Parolin, the Secretary of State, no doubt pressed by Boeselager, has persuaded the Pope to issue an extraordinary letter to Fra’ Matthew Festing, the former Grand Master, strongly urging him “not to come to Rome” for the forthcoming election of a new Grand Master. [Note: Fra’ Matthew Festing has defied this order. See Chris Ferrara’s Former Head of the Knights of Malta Defies Papal Order MJM]

This truly extraordinary letter, reproduced below, represents the culmination of a thoroughly corrupt and illegal interference win the sovereign affairs of the Order of Malta and all for the most unworthy of reasons: to protect the dealings of a few members of the Order and some Vatican prelates and to further the subversive cause of those who wish to change the Order into a secularised NGO.

The only way to save the Order from further corruption and destruction is to ensure that the “German interest” is strictly curtailed and, if necessary, removed from their offices. This is now essential for the reputation and even survival of the Order of Malta.

Many members of the Order consider that the best way to achieve that aim is for the Council Complete of State to re-elect Fra’ Matthew Festing to be Grand Master of the Order of Malta.

At this stage, they argue, there is no other way of protecting the Order of Malta from further harm and damage. The future is now in the hands of the Council Complete of State of the Order of Malta as they vote to elect the Grand Master.

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4 comments on “The Plight of the Knights of Malta: 900-year-old Religious Order Mired in Financial Scandal and Vatican Intrigue

  1. Fra Festing: Holiness, what is the airspeed velocity of a swallow carrying 30 milllion francs from Zurich to Malta?

    King Arthur: What do you mean? An African or European swallow?

    Fra Festing: Uh … I don’t know that.

    King Arthur: Then how can you possibly be Grand Chancellor?

  2. Fra Festing: Holiness, what is the airspeed velocity of a swallow carrying 30 milllion francs from Zurich to Malta?

    Pope Francis: You mean from Zurich to Rome.

    Fra Festing: Yes. Of course! From Zurich to Rome.

  3. Fra Festing: Oh, and what shall I do with Fra Boeselager’s condominiums?

    Pope Francis: Do I sense some rigidity?

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