Leaked Report of Cardinal Burke Audience Reveals Background on Malta Crisis

Today, 28 April, the Austrian Catholic website Kath.net has published an important report written by a Maltese Knight about a recent audience with Cardinal Raymond Burke in which the (“de facto suspended“) Cardinal Patron revealed much of the background of the current crisis in the Order. Burke, who has not spoken publicly on the matter himself, revealed in this audience information pertinent to tomorrow’s scheduled election of a new Grand Master of the Order Malta — information that some within the order have now apparently leaked in the hopes of forestalling the Order from being led in the wrong direction.

As Kath.net reports, Fra’ Matthew Festing is now in Rome, but has been “coldly received” and he also was told to hand over his own diplomatic passport which had been issued by his order.

Since the Kath.net report is somewhat lengthy, I will concentrate for now on the most important parts of this new revelations. Kath.net itself has good connections with people within the Order of Malta, and has repeatedly revealed important information about the current crisis. Importantly, it also has already received a cease-and-desist order for their reporting on the financial dealings of Albrecht von Boeselager, the current (and re-instated) Grand Chancellor.

First of all, Kath.net published today a screenshot of the pope’s own 1 December 2016 letter to Cardinal Burke in which he insists that the moral problems with regard to the distribution of condoms and contraceptives has to be addressed within the Order. Since we reported on this letter already, I will proceed to the next point.

Kath.net then also published the above-mentioned report about a meeting with Cardinal Burke which now has been already widely distributed within the German branch of the Order of Malta, and which was written by Josef von Beverfoerde, himself a (married) Knight of the Order of Malta. Since there is an English version of parts of that text already available, I will quote from this report, if possible. Otherwise, I will use my own translation. Von Beverfoerde met Cardinal Burke at the beginning of March 2017 and wrote down this report with Cardinal Burke’s approval and with the explicit disclaimer that it is representing Burke’s own positions, not von Beverfoerde’s. The report was not intended for the public, but is now being widely circulated since it was revealed this week.

Cardinal Burke himself, at the end of the report, is quoted as having said about the current development of the Maltese crisis:

I find it profoundly saddening that the grave scandal of the distribution of contraceptives and the advancing secularization of the Order which this immoral action represents are now minimized and, effectively, forgotten. All of the many press conferences, interviews and other interventions through the media on the part of the Order, in the time since the reinstatement of the Grand Chancellor, make no reference to the grave scandal and acknowledge no responsibility on the part of the Grand Chancellor for such scandal. From my view, I fear that the obscuring of this scandalous situation at the root of the recent difficulties in the Order is not a good augury for the renewal of the Order, according to its long, noble, and thoroughly Catholic tradition. [emphasis added]

When speaking about the course of events, Cardinal Burke makes it clear that Albrecht von Boeselager was involved in the immoral distribution of condoms and contraceptives and that a report by the Order itself about these matters was approved by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

The Cardinal Patron [Burke] told him [Festing] that the whole thing must come to an immediate end and those responsible could no longer enjoy the Order’s confidence. Finally, the Grand Master set up an investigative commission, which presented its first report in January 2016. That report presents the gravity and extent of the distribution of contraceptives by the Order.

The report of the investigation was submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for examination. On 12 March 2016, its prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, wrote a letter to the Grand Master in which he confirmed the investigation’s report with the words: “The proposal of the above-mentioned report is consistent with the doctrine and practice of the Church.” Among other conclusions, the report clearly shows that the Grand Chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, who had been Grand Hospitaller for the previous 25 years, had accepted the morally reprehensible practices and had deliberately avoided informing the Sovereign Council and Grand Master about them. [emphasis added]

What Cardinal Burke made clear in this private conversation with von Beverfoerde is that he encouraged Fra’ Festing to take steps to make von Boeselager accountable for his actions, but that he himself did not ask von Boeselager to resign since it was not in the field of his authority as Cardinal Patron:

The responsibility of the Grand Chancellor [von Boeselager] was evident since the appearance of the investigation report. The Grand Master therefore informed Cardinal Burke that he had asked the Grand Chancellor to resign, but that he had refused. During the following months, the Grand Master told the Cardinal of his further attempts to convince the Grand Chancellor of his responsibility to resign. As he is the Cardinal Patron responsible for the spiritual constitution of the Order, Burke encouraged the Grand Master in this sense so that the scandal surrounding the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients would not progress unimpeded, leading to further moral confusion and aberrations within the Order. [emphasis added]

When Burke then met, on 10 November 2016, with Pope Francis, the pope was supportive of Cardinal Burke and Fra’ Festing’s approach. Cardinal Burke is quoted as having said to von Beverfoerde:

“Pope Francis expressed profound concern and dismay about the practice of distributing contraceptives by any work of the Order. He urged me [Burke] to collaborate diligently with the Grand Master to make certain that all such practices cease and that those in highest authority who had approved of them be appropriately disciplined.”

Cardinal Burke also made it clear, once more, that he never claimed Pope Francis ordered the dismissal of von Boeselager:

“During the meeting of December 6, 2016,I [Burke] never claimed to have a mandate from Pope Francis to demand the resignation of the Grand Chancellor and, therefore, I, in my capacity as Cardinal Patronus, never asked him to resign, nor did I do so, claiming that I was speaking for the Holy Father. I made two statements, in the light of the letter of Pope Francis: 1) that it was completely unacceptable to me that an organization, of the high historical and present-day Catholic profile of the Order of Malta, could be engaged in such a scandalous practice over a number of years and yet not hold responsible the senior official who condoned the practice; and 2) that, if the First Report of the Commission of Inquiry is false, as the Grand Chancellor claims that it is, why had he not made a formal correction of the document, especially because it points to his specific responsibility for the scandalous practice.”

According to von Beverfoerde’s report

The Grand Chancellor gave no answer. This did not surprise Cardinal Burke, however, because on at least two occasions, since he had been informed as Cardinal Patron in December 2014 that Malteser International distributed contraceptives and he had insisted on immediately terminating this activity, the Grand Chancellor in the Grand Chancellor[sic], in open conversation with him at the Magistral Palace, had insistently declared to him: “We have to give contraceptives to these poor women, or they will die.” Burke’s last statement at the meeting of the 6th of December was that he saw it as his duty in connection with the Pope’s letter to say that the Holy Father expected the Order to deal with this serious problem. The Holy See should not be compelled to intervene further. [emphasis added]

Cardinal Burke describes in the following how Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrongly claimed in a letter to Fra’ Festing that Burke claimed Pope Francis had demanded the dismissal of von Boeselager. Burke immediately called Parolin in order to correct this claim – which Parolin never double checked with Burke himself – whereupon Parolin merely answered “ that it was an emergency situation.”

Several other aspects which are not to be found in the English version of the von Beverfoerde report, but which are published by Kath.net, might be of interest here. First of all, Cardinal Burke once asked Fra’ Festing why he had accepted to resign right during the audience with Pope Francis on 24 January (without further consultation or reflection), and also why he (Festing) agreed to write down in his letter of resignation that Cardinal Burke had influenced him to ask for the resignation of von Boeselager, even though this was not the case.

To both questions, Fra Festing “only answered that the obedience toward the Holy Father did not give him any other choice,” according to the von Beverfoerde report.

Cardinal Burke also once more showed his grave concern about this strange monetary donation of 120 million Swiss Francs part of which the Order of Malta purportedly had received. Nobody knows of its origins, and the Grand Master had not been even informed about its existence for a long time, according to Burke. In Burke’s eyes, “an independent audit of the situation should be done, for the sake of the good of the Order and for the sake of clearing up all difficult questions concerning this topic.”

Last but not least, Cardinal Burke also revealed, according to this document, the undue and disproportionate influence which Cardinal Parolin exercises over the Order of Malta. Parolin and von Boeselager “are in a close relationship,” according to the report. Von Boeselager himself, the report alleges, had immediately protested when he heard that Pope Francis had appointed Cardinal Burke as the Cardinal Patron of the Order of Malta in 2014. From day one on, von Boeselager made it clear to Cardinal Burke that he has “a direct connection to the Cardinal Secretary [Parolin].” On several occasions, it became clear to Cardinal Burke that Parolin and von Boeselager were working closely together with regard to internal matters of the Order of Malta. The von Beverfoerde report ends with the following statement:

Cardinal Burke over the years had the clear impression that the Cardinal Secretary was – with the help of the Grand Chancellor – closely involved with the matters of the Order, even though Cardinal Parolin never spoke with him, Burke, about the Order and his own service as Cardinal Patron.

The article has been slightly updated.

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