Earlier this week, it was revealed that Henry Sire, Oxford-educated historian and writer of Phoenix from the Ashes, was in fact the pseudonymous “Marcantonio Colonna”, author of the blockbuster book, The Dictator Pope.
Approximately five seconds later, he was summarily suspended from the Sovereign Military Order of Malta — of which he is a long-time member and about which he has written two comprehensive histories — for an alleged breach of their constitutions. Their press release reads:
The Order of Malta dissociates itself from the content of the book and strongly condemns the vile attack against the Pope
Rome 21 March 2018 – Following the press articles reporting the name of the author of the book “The Dictator Pope” the Grand Magistry of the Order of Malta has taken the decision to suspend Henry Sire, author of the book and member of the Order of Malta. The provisional suspension from membership has immediate effect and an investigation is being launched.
The content of the book “The Dictator Pope” does not reflect in any way the positions and beliefs of the Order of Malta and the author is not speaking on behalf of the Order. In particular, the chapter on the institutional crisis in the government of the Order at the end of 2016 is based on a biased and one-sided reconstruction of events.
The Order of Malta dissociates itself from the positions conveyed and considers the content of the book a grave offence to His Holiness, Pope Francis.
Sire lived at the Grand Magistry Palace whilst carrying out research for a book on the history of the Order of Malta – The Knights of Malta: a modern resurrection- published in 2016. He was never appointed in any official role within the Order’s functioning bodies and had a research contract. He left the Grand Magistry in May 2017.
This is the same Sovereign Military Order of Malta that removed their Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, in late 2016, after an internal investigation discovered the distribution of thousands of condoms to the poor through Order’s humanitarian arm, Malteser International, which was under Boeselager’s leadership from 1989-2014. It was, by all appearances, a Catholic order cleaning its own house of an influential member who was believed to have allowed direct and egregious violations of Catholic teachings.
Except the man responsible for Boeselager’s removal, Grand Master Matthew Festing, was then called to an unexpected meeting with Pope Francis, who asked him to resign on the spot (and to implicate Cardinal Burke, the order’s Cardinal Patron, in the process.) Festing acquiesced, and the same day his resignation was accepted by the Order’s Sovereign Council — along with the nullification of his “decrees establishing the disciplinary procedures against Albrecht Boeselager and the suspension of his membership in the Order” — Boeselager was reinstated in full to his office of Grand Chancellor.
If anyone was wondering why Henry wrote this book under a pseudonym, it should be pretty obvious at this juncture. A Catholic military order known for defending the faith and the faithful for a thousand years will tolerate a serious violation of fundamental doctrinal teaching, but they apparently will not forgive a well-researched and honest book that is critical about the very pope who conquered them without ever firing a shot.
Even Napoleon, who bombarded Malta and exiled the Knights in 1798, couldn’t pull that one off.
UPDATE: No sooner did I hit publish on this post than I was notified that Christopher Lamb of The Tablet had put out a story of his own on the matter. Lamb — who has been tweeting zingers about Sire this morning — was, if memory serves, routinely breaking stories about what I would term the “crisis” in the Knights of Malta (he would call “reform”) as it unfolded, leading me to believe he has a highly-placed inside source. In his article today, he takes predictable jabs like these at Sire and Festing, throwing the progressive dog whistle into full effect:
Mr Sire has written half a dozen history books including one on Catholic tradition where he describes the Second Vatican Council as a “betrayal of the Church’s faith” that needs to be “reversed” and backs the traditionalist group, the Society of Saint Pius X.
Released online at the end of last year and published under a pseudonym, “The Dictator Pope” is highly critical of Francis’ actions following the public battle between the Order of Malta – then led by Fra’ Matthew – and the Vatican.
That dispute, which took place from the end of 2016 until early 2017, erupted over the distribution of condoms but became a proxy war between the Pope and opponents of his papacy.
In “The Dictator Pope” Mr Sire describes Fra’ Matthew as an “out-and-out traditionalist, in doctrinal and liturgical terms”. The former Grand Master resigned at the request of the Pope, thereby paving the way for reform.
A spokeswoman emphasised the order disputed Mr Sire’s account of the row and said the Knights’ governing board, the Sovereign Council, had now decided to suspend his membership.
The process against Mr Sire, which he can appeal, is due to an alleged breach of article 2, paragraph 1, of the order’s constitution which states the propose of the order is “service to the faith and to the Holy Father”.
The opposition to Francis from some of the knights and their supporters appears rooted in a view of the Church that disputes Vatican II, the 1962-65 gathering of bishops which set the blueprint for contemporary Catholicism. A fortress style church, with high liturgies, a monarchical style leadership and amplification of dogma and doctrine is the model they seem intent on pursuing.
By contrast, the Argentine Pope has aligned his papacy to the Second Vatican Council’s vision and has adopted a more personalist, instinctive and populist approach to governing the Church.
Mr Sire’s book, “Phoenix from the Ashes: The Making, Unmaking, and Restoration of Catholic Tradition” singles out the High Middle Ages (1000-1250) as a golden period arguing that “no time of fluorescence can be compared to it”. Born in 1949 in Barcelona to a family of French ancestry, he is not enamoured by recent periods in Church history.
In Phoenix from the Ashes, he dismisses Vatican II’s liturgical reforms arguing there is “no obligation on any priest to use the Missal of Paul VI for any celebration” and the only liturgy that has “universal right” in the Church is that promulgated by Pope St. Pius V (1504-72).
“The ordinary Mass today is not the offering of an eternal sacrifice but a lecture conducted by the priest and two or three women of the public-librarian class,” writes Mr Sire.
He also argues that the Society of Saint Pius X, which splintered off from mainstream Catholicism in protest at Vatican II’s reforms, “has been essentially right” while “the official Church has been wrong”. [emphasis added]
Reading the above, I’m torn between fits of laughter and appreciation for what may be the greatest endorsement of the book and its author to date.