Pope seizes power from the Knights of Malta, brutally ending 900 years of their sovereignty


By Damian Thompson in The Spectator 

The Knights of Malta – an ancient Catholic order that dates back to the crusades – have enjoyed the privileges of a sovereign state for 900 years. Last night the Order of Malta was effectively stripped of its sovereignty in what appears to be a brutal power-grab by the Vatican.

Pope Francis has demanded and received the resignation of the Grand Master, Fra’ Matthew Festing, a devoutly orthodox Englishman of (even his critics agree) unimpeachable orthodoxy and personal morality. The Vatican has now taken charge of the order while the knights search for a grand master acceptable to Francis. Canon lawyer Dr Edward Condon this morning tweeted out the reaction of many Catholics:

In terms of international law, the Holy See just annexed another sovereign entity.

A source close to the order puts it more bluntly: ‘It’s like an invasion. Nine hundred years of sovereignty wiped out overnight.’

Festing’s ‘resignation’ follows a complicated row over the dismissal of the order’s Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, who was accused of permitting the distribution of condoms by the order’s international charitable arm.

Boeselager appealed to his friend, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, who set up an inquiry made up of Boeselager’s allies. Festing and the leadership of the order refused to accept the authority of the inquiry, because – they argued – the Vatican had no temporal authority over a body that is independent under international law.

The argument over Boeselager and the condoms is convoluted, to say the least. This Catholic Herald report explains much of the background. The former Grand Chancellor may or may not have a case; what is certain is that he is extremely well-connected. Allies don’t come more powerful than Parolin, the Pope’s foreign secretary, whom many suspect of twisting the Pope’s arm in this matter.

The humiliation of Festing is a dreadful business. He is a good-natured and holy man who, until his appointment in 2008, was an archetypal English ‘Catholic toff’ – Ampleforth and Cambridge, former Guards officer, son of a field marshal, no less, and on his mother’s side descended from Blessed Sir Adrian Fortescue, martyred in 1539.

Pope Francis likes him – so why has he sacked him so abruptly, without adequate explanation? Is it another manifestation of the erratic behaviour I described in a Spectator article earlier this month?

Boeselager – himself monumentally grand, and the son of one of the 1944 Wehrmacht plotters against Hitler – must feel vindicated today. Whether he can afford to relax is another question.

Let me draw your attention to today’s report by Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register, which contains the following intriguing information:

Also behind the dispute were allegations of an ambitious German association vying for control of the Order, accusations that the Grand Master was being overly authoritarian, and conflicts of interest among members of the Holy See commission. Three members of the commission along with Boeselager have also been involved in a $118 million donation held in a trust in Switzerland. Despite documentation proving the contrary, the trust denied any connection with the Order.

Will the Vatican, which has just hounded a good man out of office and trashed the sovereignty of its most ancient and loyal chivalric order, now also investigate this mysterious donation?


Read Ed Condon’s article in the Catholic Herald yesterday to understand the possible implications of this unprecedented move by the Vatican: “The Vatican has destroyed the Order of Malta’s sovereignty. What if Italy does the same to the Vatican?”

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Pope seizes power from the Knights of Malta, brutally ending 900 years of their sovereignty

  1. marysong says:

    All so very sad !! The Pope’s fixation on Malta leads me to think it is a weapon on his part to disassemble Cardinal Burke and the Dubia, as Cardinal Burke is their Cardinal now. It is definately the MO of this Pontifex. I wish this Pope would be a Spiritual Shepherd instead of a worldly political leader. The world is in love with him. I wish we still had Sister Lucia, but then again, she did her life of imprisonment and silence as imposed on her by the Vatican. She doesn’t need this. Sister Lucy pray for us. Our Lady of Fatima come to our aid quickly. Ave Maria!

  2. David O'Neill says:

    The actions of Pope Francis will resonate into history as an act of revenge. He had no legal right to ask Fra Matthew Festing to resign. Perhaps the Order will fight back by re-electing Fra Matthew as Grand Master

  3. J.P. says:

    Has Pope Francis or an official Vatican spokesperson actually given reason(s) anywhere why Fra Matthew Festing was asked to resign as opposed to engaging in wild speculation as to the reason(s) for it ?

  4. mmvc says:

    I haven’t seen any reasons or explanations given anywhere, J.P. Sadly, this seems to be the modus operandi of this pope:

    “By acting in such a way, Pope Bergoglio has exercised an act of dominion openly in contrast with the spirit of dialogue established as the leit motif during the Year of Mercy. However, what is graver still, is that the intervention took place “to punish” the current in the Order which is the most faithful to the immutable Magisterium of the Church and support instead, the secularist wing, which would like to transform the Knights of Malta into a humanitarian NGO, a distributer of condoms and abortificants “for good reasons”. The next designated victim appears to be the Cardinal Patron, Raymond Leo Burke, who has the dual offence of having defended Catholic Orthodoxy inside the Order and of being one of the four cardinals who criticised the theological and moral errors of the Bergoglian Exhortation, Amoris laetitia.”


  5. J.P. says:

    I have read the blog you cite. Thank you. If the Sovereign Council alone is the persona designata under the Order’s Constitution to accept the resignation of Fra Matthew Festing why one asks, knowing that, did he go along with tendering his resignation to the Pope ? No doubt he is a very intelligent man who is fully conversant with the Constitution of the Order of Malta. Or perhaps he was simply tired of the office he held, wished to resign, and mistaking how he should do so simply handed his resignation to the Pope who was equally unaware of correct procedure ?

    If Fra Matthew Festing was forced to resign, would he not be expected to complain about that ?

    How correct is it to say that the Order is a Sovereign State ? Is it recognized as such internationally, and especially by the United Nations ? If the latter, has the Order Observer Status at the General Assembly of the United Nations like the Holy See itself has ?

  6. GC says:

    As outsiders, we would have thought the matter of who is or is not to be an office-bearer should be left to the order itself to sort out. Subsidiarity, as they say. Dictatorship from above, except in clear cases of emergency, should be resisted all the way. I cannot think of any other pope in my lifetime (7 of them) who has interfered with the Knights of Malta. Curiouser and curiouser.

    The Knights of St John of Jerusalem, then Cyprus, Rhodes and later Malta gave us this, the oldest wine in the world with the original name, and which is all rather nice with a good fruit cake.

  7. johnhenrycn says:

    “I cannot think of any other pope in my lifetime (7 of them)…”

    Does this mean 7 popes excluding or including Francis?

    According to my abacus, GC is (a) between 77 and 93 or (b) between 58 and 77 🙂

  8. J.P. says:

    After a few glasses of the above mentioned wine who knows the authors of the critical views expressed about our dear Pope Francis on this blog might become a bit more mellow.

  9. The Raven says:

    You mean that the Holy Father’s actions look reasonably OK if one is drunk?

  10. johnhenrycn says:

    TR: Ha!
    Is that parody or deadpan humour? Whichever, John Kehole (aka, John Piehole) won’t get it.

  11. J.P. says:

    The Raven @20:45. No, the ‘few glasses’ I suggest are not likely to make one drunk but rather to mellow the sourness against the Holy Father which I regularly find here. After all, the wine, we are reminded by GC @ 16:29, was originally produced by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, Cyprus, Rhodes and Malta, surely an impeccable source according to the sentiments expressed in favour of the Order of Malta on this blog ?
    Johnhenrycn My dear enemy @21:12. What on earth is it that I am not supposed to ‘get’ ? By the way, deliberately misspelling my name doesn’t really improve your comments.

  12. GC says:

    JH yesterday at 17:43:

    The answer is, of course, (b) and very much towards the lower limit you calculated.

    Mr J.P.(Kehoe) at 17:45 yesterday:

    In these notes you will see that the history of the Cyprus Commandaria wines would make one even more appreciative of the Knights of Malta and their sovereignty, while also leaving a very pleasant taste in the mouth – which cannot be said about this irregular interference in the Knights’ internal affairs. They say the wine goes very well with blue cheeses too.

  13. Fr. niel Capasso O.R.C.C. says:

    I have said it over and over again this pope is a bully. a dreadful bully…charity that he speaks of does not reside with him…very sad man.

  14. johnhenrycn says:

    Ottawa River Canoe Club?
    Off Road Camping Club?
    Old Roman Catholic Church?

    I see the name “Neil Capasso” appears in other internet forums, but without the prefix “Fr”.

  15. johnhenrycn says:

    Sorry about the misspelling of “Niel”, although “Neil” is the more common variant.

  16. toadspittle says:

    All this naughty Maltese crossness derives, I suggest, from the fact that Francis doesn’t like men who like “dressing up.”
    Fra Festing – who enjoys (or did) the sort of uniform favoured by Herman Goering, Idi Amin, or as worn by an extra in a bad road production of “The Merry Widow” – is inevitably ranked along with Card. R. Burke on this score. And so they must both hit the road.
    We can see the Pope’s point, even if we deplore His Holiness’ lack of a sense of appreciation of the ridiculous.

  17. The Raven says:

    I’m not sure that ‘we’ can see the Pope’s point, Toad.

    It seems that this move against the Knights has been motivated primarily out of a desire to put another chap who likes dressing up, Böselager, back into the job from which he was rightly dismissed.

    Böselager’s qualification for the role being that he is a mate of one of the Holy Father’s cronies.

  18. johnhenrycn says:

    Boeselager likes to play Mr Modern Major-General dress-up as much as the next guy.

  19. kathleen says:

    For an in-depth analysis of this shocking situation, plus a very interesting summary of the background and work of the noble Order of the Knights of Malta, take a look at this post from The Modern Medievalist’s blog.
    Our old friend, The Hapsburg Restorationist, (remember him?) has entered into the discussion, although, surprisingly, he defends Pope Francis’ unprecedented action!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s