Open war in the Vatican for control of the powerful Order of Malta

Open war in the Vatican for control of the powerful Order of Malta

It is the only sovereign State, recognized by the United Nations, without physical territory to govern, although with a lot of power, a lot of money and also a lot of solidarity work throughout the world. It has its roots in the first Crusades, when the popes ordered the reconquest of the Holy Land from the 'infidel enemy' with the cry of "God wills it". In fact, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, currently known as the Order of Malta (SMOM) was born in Jerusalem and exercised its power for centuries on the small Mediterranean island until Napoleon expelled them in 1798.

But, above all, the group is a religious congregation that, as such, and although it does not want to, ultimately depends on the Vatican, which is in a dispute over control of the institution after detecting various irregularities and abuses of power. So much so that this week Pope Francis, who has proposed to refound the organization, has taken an unusual measure: the dissolution of the current Sovereign Council and the approval of a new Constitution (the current one dates from 1961), which the gentlemen must begin to apply after an extraordinary congress that Bergoglio has ordered for next January.

It is, in practice, the intervention of the organization, despite internal resistance, which interprets the changes as a threat to its sovereignty. With the decision, the Pope has reminded the order that it cannot escape his vigilance, as symbolized by one of the best kept secrets, attractive to more and more tourists, of Rome: the view from the keyhole of Villa Magistral, which is the seat of the Embassy of the Order of Malta to the Vatican, points right at the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. And Rome is also watching them.

The measure that Bergoglio has taken is unparalleled in the recent history of the Church, least of all in the case of a Pope who has a reputation for conciliation. The experts consulted confirm to that Francisco “has had no choice”. And it is that, for six years, the Pope has tried to bring this institution to heel, and he has not been able to, which is why he has ended up taking action on the matter after verifying a series of financial irregularities, management and control of its members "that few had seen in the recent history of the Church," these sources point out.

The conflict between the Vatican and the Order of Malta began at the end of 2016 with the resignation (or dismissal) of the then Grand Chancellor, Albert Freiherr von Boeselager, who denounced the free distribution of condoms in some health centers managed by the order in several countries. However, behind this complaint was hidden a fierce struggle for control of the institution, divided into two factions: the one commanded by the Grand Chancellor, and the one led by the Grand Master, Matthew Festing, which provoked the intervention of Rome, creating a commission to investigate the causes of Boeselager's dismissal.

Festing did not admit Vatican interference, claiming the full sovereignty of the Order of Malta. And it is that the conflict of authorities (something similar, with many nuances, to what happens with the priests who are members of Opus Dei when there is a conflict between the organization and the local bishop) has been one of the main causes of the conflict with the knights of maltese

Grand Master Festing convened his own commission, and the Pope reacted by calling for his resignation. In April, Giacomo Dalla Torre was appointed lieutenant of the Grand Master, with the task of reforming the congregation and a year later he was appointed leader of the Order, although he died shortly after in circumstances that have never been clarified. Meanwhile, the Pope entrusted Cardinal Silvano Tomasi with a deep investigation into the 'guts' of the organization, which concluded with the recommendation to the Pope to refound, almost ten centuries after its creation, the Order of Malta.

The group has some 13,500 gentlemen and ladies members (700 in Spain, most of them related to the old European nobility), to which are added some 90,000 volunteers and 52,000 workers; they enjoy dual nationality, have their own currency (with use practically reserved for collectors) and state license plates. Observer Member of the UN, the Order of Malta maintains diplomatic relations with 112 states, and although it defines itself as "neutral, impartial and apolitical", its diplomatic involvement in international conflicts is widely recognized.

The fight does not seem to have done anything but start. The official response of the Order of Malta to the Vatican's decision has been to welcome it "with satisfaction", according to the statement posted on your website, which speaks of "fatherly actions of His Holiness that demonstrate his love for our Order". And he continues: "In his careful examination of the various proposals presented in recent months, the Pope has set a course that promises to ensure the future of the Order both as a Religious Institute and as a Sovereign Entity."

However, it is known that there is internal resistance within the order. In fact, just over a month earlier, those responsible for almost 90% of the works of the congregation wrote to Rome warning of the consequences of any measure that could violate the sovereignty of the congregation. It will be necessary to see if the sectors that do not see with good eyes the intervention of the Vatican take some step now and in what direction.

The decision made by the Pontiff is explained in a letter published last Saturday in which he recalls that the Order of Malta "has always enjoyed special protection by the Apostolic See", and makes it clear, in line with what Pius XII did, that the "inherent prerogatives of the Order [...] as a subject of international law [...]which are characteristic of sovereignty, [...] they do not constitute in the Order that complex of powers and prerogatives, which is proper to sovereign entities in the full sense of the word".

In other words, that it is a "religious Order, approved by the Holy See" and that, therefore, "depends, in its various articulations" on it. After underlining that in recent years he has followed "with paternal care and concern" the progress of the Order of Malta, the Pope notes "the need to initiate a profound spiritual, moral and institutional renewal of the entire Order, especially and not only of Members of the First Class, but also of those of the Second Class".

Therefore, he entrusted a special delegate, Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, "this important work of reform." And what has happened?" In the Pope's words, "many steps have been taken, but many other obstacles and difficulties have been encountered along the way." Therefore, "the time has come to complete the process of renewal that has begun" .

The Pope has thus ordered "the immediate entry into force" of the new Constitutional Charter, the revocation of its high positions, the dissolution of the Sovereign Council and the formation of a provisional one that will have Frey Emmanuel Rousseau as Grand Commander. In addition, next January 25, an extraordinary conclave coordinated by Tomasi should be held.

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