In Defense of Cardinal Burke: Italian Journalist Publishes Parts of Pope Francis’ Own 1 December 2016 Letter to His Prelate

Many Catholic observers have more fully come to see in the recent days the disproportionate injustice done to Fra’ Matthew Festing, the former Grand Master of the Order of Malta, and to Cardinal Raymond L. Burke himself, the Cardinal Patron of the Order, both of whom have now been effectively punished for their attempt to Catholicize more fully the Order of Malta. The expressed indignation about this recent papal intrusion into the Order has even led to a poster campaign in Rome, criticizing Pope Francis also for his openly unmerciful actions. Professor Roberto de Mattei, in a 3 February commentary, had the following piercing words to say about the Order of Malta affair:

The story of the Order of Malta ended with the unconditional surrender of the Grand Master and the return of power to Albrecht von Boeselager along with the powerful German group he represents.

The story was summarized in these terms by Riccardo Cascioli of La Nuova Bussola quotidiana: “the one responsible for the moral drift of the Order has been reinstated and he who tried to stop it was sent home”.

Riccardo Cascioli is the same Italian journalist who recently conducted the important interview with Cardinal Gerhard Müller for the Italian journal Il Timone. Cascioli also now reveals in the article to which Professor de Mattei refers that he himself has been able to read that mysterious 1 December 2016 letter written by Pope Francis and addressed personally to Cardinal Burke which contains his “marching orders” with regard to the Order of Malta.

It is important to know more about this letter since it shows that Cardinal Burke and Fra’ Festing had essentially tried to implement the papal directives and recommendations.

In the following, we therefore publish some parts of the Cascioli article just as it was published on 2 February 2017. Though Cardinal Burke is likely now to have been further humiliated and set aside by the pope’s standing decision to make Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu his own delegate to the Order of Malta, may this translated article and revelation of truth be still a small consolation to him. May even more truth about the recent past soon be published and further published and disseminated.

Andrew Guernsey has again kindly and generously provided the translation of important parts of the article. Mr. Guersney has put into bold all of the quotes from Pope Francis’ 1 December letter.


That Letter from the Pope to Cardinal Burke

Riccardo Cascioli

2 February 2017, La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana


This is the letter [written by Pope Francis sent to Cardinal Burke] sent after the personal meeting that Cardinal Burke had on November 10 [2016] with Pope Francis, to whom he had explained the delicate situation of the Order concerning the position of Albrecht Boeselager, of which we speak another story. This letter, was also made known to all the members of the Order’s Sovereign Council, and it has been hitherto used as a (serious) indictment against the same Cardinal Burke.


Burke, in reality, has always denied being the instigator of the dismissal or having used the words of the Pope in a fraudulent way, but the letter actually has a much less conciliatory tone than what is claimed by Cardinal [Pietro] Parolin.

After urging Cardinal Burke to vigilance “in carrying out his task of ‘promoting the spiritual interests of the Order and of its members and the relations between the Holy See and the Order’ (Constitutional Charter, art. 4 par. 4),” the pope asserts first of all that “manifestations of a worldly spirit which are contrary to the Catholic faith or are of relativistic character must be prevented from being introduced into the Order, including affiliations and associations, movements and organizations.” The reference is to the alleged infiltration of Freemasonry among the Knights of Malta that the Pope, in private conversations, has recalled several times. “If this is found to be the case,” Pope Francis continues, “the Knights who were possibly members of such groups, movements and organizations will be asked to withdraw their support, since it is incompatible with the Catholic faith and membership in the Order.”

The second chapter concerns the problem of the distribution of contraceptives in poor countries: “Particular care will also be taken,” the [papal] letter reads, “that methods and means contrary to the moral law are not employed and distributed in charitable initiatives and relief efforts. If in the past some problems have arisen in this area, I hope that it can be completely resolved. I would be frankly displeased if, in fact, some senior Officials – as you yourself have told me – while knowing of these practices, especially regarding the distribution of contraceptives of any kind, have not intervened until now to put an end to it.”

Clearly, then, the objective was set out by the Pope. But what about how to deal with those responsible for the scandal? “But I do not doubt,” writes Pope Francis, “that, following the Pauline principle of ‘practicing the truth in charity’ (Eph4:15), it will be possible to enter into dialogue with them and to achieve the necessary corrections.”

There is a clear directive here, but above all a wish. What happens if, instead, those responsible do not intend to resolve the problem? As we have explained in the main article, in fact, this is not about a small isolated problem but rather about practices which were carried out at least until very recent times and above all, which were shared ideologically by those responsible like Boeselager, who up to 2014 was directly responsible for these projects. From all the re-tellings of the story it seems clear that there was the Grand Master’s attempt to call Boeselager to his responsibilities, which was rejected, prompting the Grand Master then to dismiss Boeselager, and the sovereign Council to elect his successor as Grand Chancellor.

How things went from there is recent history, but reading the clear directives of Pope Francis, one can not but wonder that the end result is that the one objectively responsible for the projects condemned by the Pope has been reinstated and proved to be the winner, while those who tried to follow the Pope’s orders were ousted, humiliated and subjected to the media attacks.

The letter also confirms that different positions on the case of the Order of Malta have come about between the Pope and his secretary of state, with Cardinal Parolin quite resolved to support Boeselager as the true and proper commissioner to the Order. A fact which raises some curiosity has been augmented by another detail not yet reported. The Holy See has, in fact, decided to nullify and invalidate all the acts of the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council since this past December 6. In this way, not only is the dismissal of Boeselager rendered null, but also – and here is the detail – the appointment of an internal investigative committee commissioned by the Grand Master to investigate the mysterious inheritance of 120 million deposited in Switzerland – of which [matter] so much has been spoken in recent weeks and about which the Grand Master was essentially left in the dark. Informed (and interested) parties think, instead, that it was Boeselager. Now this investigative commission will be no more.

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