The Pope Stacks the Deck for the New Election of the Grand Master of the Maltese Order
Villa Malta on the Aventine
(Rome) On the following Saturday, 29 April, the Grand Council of Sovereigns of the Sovereign Order of Malta will gather in Rome to form the "conclave", to elect a new Grand Master and Prince of the Order -- the 80th. The election becomes necessary because Pope Francis, with a blatant act, forced the resignation of the reigning Grand Master without naming reasons and now intervenes massively in the election of the successor.
Pope has dismissed the Grand Master and now wishes a successor of his choosing
The circumstances that led to this conclave are no less surprising than the circumstances that led to the conclave that in 2013 chose Pope Francis. In both cases, a premature election has taken place, although both Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 as well as the 79th Grandmaster Fra Matthew Festing in 2008 were elected for lifetime.
During the sudden imprisonment of Benedict XVI, The pontificate of Francis made it possible, it was the Argentine pope, abruptly and radically terminated the office of Grandmaster Festing. Francis, too, now leaves no doubt of wishing a successor to be a grand master.
After forcing Festing to resign on March 24, he placed the Order under provisional supervision. To this end, he appointed Apostolic Special Legate, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Substitute of the Cardinal Secretary. He also showed Cardinal Raymond Burke, the official representative of the Pope, at the Order, the door. Officially, the US cardinal is still a Cardinal Patron of the Maltese, but this is only on paper, which as is known is patient. The reality is different. "At the request of Pope Francis, I have nothing more to do with the affairs of the Order," the Cardinal himself stated in an interview. Burke had not been deported from the Vatican until the end of the first bishop's synod on the family where he was a protagonist against the Kasperians who were supported by Francis.
Papal Intervention - Interdict against deposed Grand Master
On Easter Monday an unusual papal telephone call was made to one of his employees, who was on the road with some of the Knights of the Order. To them, it is thought, the call had a purpose and indicated that Pope Francis had made the choice of the new Grand Master.
Two days before, on Holy Saturday, which was not known until Tuesday of Easter Week, Special Councilor Becciu had informed the deposed Grand Master Festing in a letter "in the name of the Pope" that his presence during the re-election of his successor in Rome was not desired. In order to ensure a "calm and harmonious" course of the election, he, "with the consent of the pope," had decided that the ousted Grand Master, although a professed knight of the order, and thus a member of the First Estate, should remain outside of Rome come election day.
There are interferences upon interferences in the innermost affairs of an Order, which is actually a sovereign object of international law. The competences of the Holy See are limited to the religious life of the professed knights, but Pope Francis is currently on the verge of legal provisions, whether of Church or international law. He knows that personal policy is the real lever for "sustainable" and lasting interventions.
Papal invitation to Santa Marta
On the day of the Maltese Conclave Pope Francis will be in Egypt, where he wants to deepen "dialogue" with Islam in a two-day stay. On the eve of his trip to Egypt, April 27th, he invited a high ranking representative of the Order of Malta to Santa Marta at 7 pm. Among them is Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, who today is the really powerful man in the order, but at the same time also the bone of contention, over which, however, Grandmaster Festing was overthrown.
Festing had addressed Boeselager at the beginning of December 2016 because of the distribution of contraceptive means, which was carried out in auxiliary areas by the relief agency of the Order. The responsibility for these aid projects was with Boeselager, who before his time as a Grand Chancellor had occupied the office of the Grand Hospitaller. In addition, there was still an unclear donation in double-digit millions, which was apparently to be handled by a Swiss trustee behind Festing's back. Festing accused Boeselager of a breach of trust and demanded his resignation, which the German knight refused. When Festing set him down, Boeselager summoned the Vatican Secretariat, who promptly and unusually resolutely intervened in his favor. In the sole personal conversation Francis granted to the Grand Master, he demanded the reinstatement of Boeselager as a Grand Chancellor. When Festing refused, the pope demanded his head.
An "adversary of the pope"
Such is the prehistory which led to the election of a new Grand Master on Saturday. Since then, a majority is being conjured up behind the scenes. There is also moral pressure, because anyone who denies the "Boeselager direction", also called "German direction", is suspected of being an "adversary of the pope". In times of an accentuated autocratic regimen in the Vatican, no accusation is to be put away easily. It is not so clumsily put, but it is suggested.
The prohibition of participation for the dismissed Grand Master is obviously intended to prevent the background of the entire conflict from being placed on the table by the appointed side. Members of the Grand Council of State could ask Festing for clarification, which the latter could only gladly give. In the name of a dubious "unity" and "harmony", however, the election should be in the desired direction.
The names of the 15 invited
The names of the illustrious circle of the 15 high-ranking knights, whom Pope Francis calls hand-picked in the run-up to the election in Santa Marta, was published today by the Vaticanist Sandro Magister and numbered according to rank:
Fra Ludwig Hoffmann of Rumerstein, Grand Commander and Governor ad interim;
Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, Grand Chancellor;
Dominique de La Rochefoucauld-Montbel, Grand Hospitaller;
János Esterházy de Galántha, Receptor of the Joint Treasury;
Erich Prinz von Lobkowicz, Chairman of the German Association;
Marwan Sehnaoui, Chairman of the Lebanese Association;
Jaime Churruca and Azlor de Aragón, President of the Spanish Association;
Thierry de Beaumont-Beynac, Chairman of the French Association;
Fra Giacomo Dalla Torre Del Tempio di Sanguinetto, Grandprior of Rome;
Fra Luigi Naselli di Gela, Grandprior of Naples and Sicily;
Clemente Riva di Sanseverino, Delegate of the Grand Priastrian of Emilia and Romagna;
Fra Ian Scott, Grandprior of England;
Fra Emmanuel Rousseau, Member of the Sovereign Council;
Jack E. Pohrer, Chairman of the American Association;
Monsignor Giovanni Scarabelli, Profect Conventual Chaplain.
Disseminated unrest in the Order
Officially, it is said, they were invited by the special legate, Becciu, but with the suggestion that Pope Francis also wanted to speak with them. The reason for the meeting is the same with which Becciu imposed the interdict on Fra Matthew Festing: this is to ensure that the election could take place "in a climate of peace and regained harmony."
If Francis' dismissal of Festing had already caused great disturbances in the order, the ban imposed on Festing aroused no less bewilderment and misunderstanding. "Some of this seems to be an intolerable abuse of office," says Magister. Even opponents of Festing speak of an exaggerated harshness. This widespread disagreement in the Order was the occasion for the recent intervention of the Vatican: the invitation of the chosen professed knights to Santa Marta, which is to be used for calming, gaining (or intimidating).
In fact, the invitation "created new antagonisms in the Order instead of settling them," says Magister. Not a few of the knights see a further, inadequate interference by the Vatican, and a pressure exerted by Pope Francis to influence the Grand Duke.
Postponement of the Grandmaster's Election Possible
Whether the election of the 80th Grand Master happens on Saturday, however, is questionable. Boeselager, for example, can not become Grandmaster. He belongs to the Second Estate. According to the rules of the Order, the Grand Master must be a member of the First Estate. In the course of the conflict, Cardinal Secretary Pietro Parolin had already known, before Christmas, that Pope Francis wanted to "reform" the Order, which was already understood by some as a threat.
On Saturday, therefore, Grand Commander Hoffmann of Rumerstein could be confirmed in the office of a head of state, who has led the Order in the absence of a Grand Master. Magister also mentions the Grand Priory of Rome, Fra Giacomo Dalla Torre Del Tempio di Sanguinetto, as potential candidates for an interim society. The actual decision-making powers would thus remain with the Pontifical Commissioner. This is a situation which would be pleasant for neither Boeselager nor the Pope.
The head of state is appointed for one year. At this time the "reforms" mentioned by Pope Franziskus could be carried out, which - unpredictably foreseeable - will mainly concern the electoral order for the election of the Grand Master.
Even the confidants of Festing and the knights who were concerned about the massive pontifical intervention might be faced with a postponement of the Grand-Electoral election as a buffer. Things can often change quickly, as in the resignation of Benedict XVI. and the election of Francis.
Reform of electoral law and Grand Master election in one year?
The Grand Master must be a professed knight, for only these, among all knights, undertake the solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These are currently among the world's 13,000 knights less than 60. They form a special class similar to the Cardinals in the Church, who alone are entitled to choose the Pope. The cardinals do not have to choose him from their own ranks, but they have not done so since ancient times. The Maltese are similar and yet different. The Second and the Third Estate, together with the First Estate, elect the Grand Master, but must choose him from the small circle of the "Monks' Knights". This is reduced to currently 12 candidates because, according to old custom, all four grandparents of the Grand Master must be of noble descent.
The latter regulation assures the Order its elitist character, but on the whole, the limitation of the candidates for the Grand Master office to the first class ensures, above all, its spiritual character. This has been and still is to prevent the ancient order from becoming a mere humanitarian NGO among others. The "German tendency" in the Order has for some years been said to make the Maltese Order such an NGO, which would surely be efficient, thoroughly organized with German efficiency and superior to all comparable NGOs because of the diplomatic immunity of the Order. They see the framework within the Order to build up therein the perfect humanitarian, international player and contact for governments and international institutions. Critics, on the other hand, argue that this is possible only at an unacceptable price: the loss of its identity as a Catholic order, if not the loss of its Christian identity. The main distinction between other humanitarian NGOs would no longer be the charism of the Knights 'and Hospitaler' Order, which in Jerusalem protected the pilgrims on their way to the holy places, who for centuries defended Christianity militarily and who always performed works of active charity with the works of the spiritual Charity.
"However, as we know, the internal conflict has far deeper and more serious reasons, not least the unresolved question of the mysterious 30 million euros," says Sandro Magister. Not only does Boeselager deal with them, but another of the 15 invited, the Lebanese Marwan Sehnaoui. Sehnaoui was also a member of the Vatican Investigation Commission, which consisted mainly of Boeselager confidants, who also deal directly with the mysterious million affair at Lake Geneva. The Pope seems to care little. Whoever appeals to him, he defends unconditionally, whoever does not appeal to him ...