Image: From left to right – Marco Tosatti, Roberto de Mattei, Matthias von Gersdorff (Giuseppe Nardi not pictured)
On Saturday, 29 April, the Order of Malta elected Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre as the new interim leader of the Order. He will reign for only year. During that year, the Vatican plans to reform the Order fundamentally, including changes to the governance requirements that would open the role of Grand Master to those not among the ranks of the professed Knights (who take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience), but instead from a larger pool of candidates within the Order.
This 29 April event has put an end to the hopes of many Catholics that Fra’ Matthew Festing would be re-elected after he had earlier resigned in obedience to the request of Pope Francis himself. Different Catholic commentators well-informed about Vatican affairs have now kindly responded to OnePeterFive’s request to present their own analysis and comments on the current disruption in the Order of Malta. We thus gratefully present their considered opinions in the following sequence.
Professor Roberto de Mattei, Church Historian (Italy):
The election of the new Lieutenant ad interim of the Order of Malta, Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, does not resolve at all the crisis which shakes this old institution, but will just postpone resolving the internal conflict for another year. It is about a profound crisis which reflects the vast disorder currently reigning in the Church and in Western society. The Order of Malta has experienced for many years now its own spiritual decadence which especially stems from the loss of identity. The principal points of its identity which have been lost are the military character and the noble and sovereign character of the Order. The military spirit has disappeared when the merciful aspect of assistance (“obsequium pauperum”) started to dominate the primary goal of defending the Faith (“tuitio fidei”). In this actual situation of confusion, an Order of ancient traditions such as the one of Malta – if it were to remain loyal to its original vocation – could make an important current contribution to the defense of orthodoxy, especially due to the independence which assists and fortifies its noble and sovereign character. But the European nobility itself has ceased – and for quite some years now – to offer its best sons to the Church and to chivalrous institutions while now preferring, instead, to employ them in those economic-financial affairs which are much more lucrative.
In order to preserve today the spirit of the Order, a reform would be necessary so that the door of “governance” would be open to non-noble persons, among whom it is now easier to find loyal and combative Catholics. But, this would thereby also eliminate an important element of its identity. The third element – the sovereignty of the institution – was still alive until a few months ago, but Pope Francis has now practically destroyed it by a series of measures which led to the election of a lieutenant who is completely subordinated to the Holy See’s Secretariat of State.
Nevertheless, every crisis can be salutary if it produces a wholesome reaction. In the last months, with this crisis, a strong reaction has indeed manifested itself. Today, one is faced with the alternative between the return to religious and chivalric traditions, and a new transformation of the Order of Malta into a humanitarian institution which is imprinted with secularism.
Marco Tosatti, Journalist (Italy):
I am not a specialist about this very secretive and well guarded world that belongs to the Order of Malta. From the outside, I would say, however, that the election of an Italian interim Chief might be read as a balancing move, between the very aggressive German faction (also supported by the current Secretariat of State), and all the others. I read attentively what kath.net and OnePeterFive have written about the Report written by a Maltese Knight about his own audience with Cardinal Burke. And I have seen the letter written to Burke by the Pontiff. It is clear that the Pope shifted radically his former approach – probably advised or pushed by I do not know which forces and interests – to an unprecedented attack to the independence of a very particular military order. It is clear that the Secretariat of State, an expression of the powerful caste of the diplomats, has had strong ties with the German party; I do not know which interests lie beyond. Cardinal Burke is very clear when he talks about a strange, anonymous donation of 120 million Swiss Francs. All this does not smell of theology, or of a spiritual debate, but, rather, of money and business and power. And the real “golpe” [coup] made by the Secretariat of State will mark an historical event both for the Church and for the Order. But, I’m afraid, it will not be one of the good highlights of this current papal reign.
Matthias von Gersdorff, Catholic Commentator and Book Author (Germany):
The intervention of the Holy See in the Causa “Order of Malta” is more than disturbing both concerning the manner as well as the substantive case itself. Not only because one has intervened massively into the responsibilities of a sovereign power; but also because it was not done for the sake of the defense of proper Catholic positions – the necessity for which one would have easily understood – but for the sake of the defense of an adverse and doubtful position, namely the distribution of contraceptives (and abortifacients), a secular view of the centuries-old order, and a primacy of utilitarian pragmatism over tradition. Additionally, there follows the intervention of the Vatican with regard to financial events that are themselves hard to understand. All of this, taken together, leaves among “normal” laymen a fatal impression: that the Catholic identity has been sacrificed for the sake of short-sighted and, especially, morally dubious aims.
Giuseppe Nardi, Editor of Katholisches.Info (Germany):
The Boeselager affair was turned – with the help of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and without any urgent reasons – into a Maltese affair. The re-election on 29 April stood under the sign of a cover-up: the responsibilities for the distribution of contraceptives, and some opaque financial actions, have been covered-up. The impression: In this case, there is active a dubious clique under the leadership of von Boeselager and Cardinal Parolin. A nepotism [Vetterliwirtschaft, a Swiss expression] (among other things, it is about very much money in Switzerland) which has so much influence that it could move Pope Francis simply to dismiss a serving Grand Master who had been elected for life, and who had not at all burdened himself with guilt.
The Order of Malta fell victim to a downright papal weakness: to protect insouciantly his “amigos” [friends] and ruthlessly to sacrifice others. The outside effect of the affair concerns the whole Catholic Church and is disastrous: it increases the impression that, under Pope Francis, the non-negotiable principles are to be given up, after all. The Right to Life from conception until the natural death is now under an all-out attack. The landmarks which finally Benedict XVI had clearly stamped into the ground – and with mighty words as a secure orientation – are being now, in a nocturnal action, dug out again in order to blur the borders. The papal silence about both the mass murder of the unborn children and about the distribution of contraceptives (and abortifacients) in the field of Boeselager’s responsibility is rooted in the same way of thinking.
The election of an Italian as the governor of the Order could, however, have positive effects. Less positive, however, is that a new Grand Master was not elected. The recent events are not a good omen. The signal is clear: the special party wishes to change the Constitution of the Maltese Order and one could therefore not claim that they would not have – with their Teutonic efficiency – great plans. With the Secretariat of State behind Boeselager and with a papal commissioner on the tail of the governor, a “reform” based on special interests is threatening to emerge.
In a few years, the Order of Malta will celebrate its 1000th Anniversary. An age which simply makes all secular actors’ jaw drop out of envy, especially in our fast-moving time. The question is whether or not the Order will be able to preserve – next to its name and other external signs – that which has characterized it since its foundation and which has maintained its vivid existence for so long: its Catholic identity and its special Catholic charism as a hospitaller and knightly order. This identity and this charism are not to be arbitrarily bent nor to be further moulded; they will decide – fully apart from efficiency and mere human judgment – the Order’s own survival or decline.