In the last few days before Christmas an apparently minor internal conflict within the Order of Malta has exploded even in the international secular media. A senior officer – Albrecht von Boeselager – of the Knights of Malta has been suspended from the Order and removed from his positions by the Order’s Grand Master. And Pope Francis has installed a five-man commission to study the situation. It is reported that the members appointed to the panel are favorably predisposed to Albrecht von Boeselager – and that the Grand Master has rejected the panel as outside interference in the internal affairs of the Order.
The Knights of Malta here in the United States have been traditionally known for their charitable work and fundraising for the Church. In recent years, however, they have assumed a more active role in true liturgical renewal, taking a leadership role in several major Traditional events in and around New York. The same is true elsewhere in the world. We all know, moreover, who has been the Cardinal patron of the Order since 2014….
Now what exactly is going on? As always in such cases, the European media provide more details than one gets here. In fact, I first read of this situation in a curious anonymous article of December 15 in the website Kath.net. 1) Now this site is hardly traditionalist – it is “conservative Catholic,” fawns over Pope Francis (or did so until recently) and still makes unsuccessful efforts to ingratiate itself with at least some members of the German and Austrian hierarchies. According to this:
“A small circle from the German-speaking countries wishes to preserve the advantages of exclusivity and Sovereignty but to loosen somewhat the ties, in their opinion too constricting, with the doctrine of the Church and the Pope. … The Grand Hospitaller of the Order at that time, Baron Albrecht von Boeselager, took over the already almost finished recommendations (apparently, to intensify the lived spirituality of the order and to revitalize to the Order’s fundamental mission of defending the Catholic Faith – SC), rejected everything in favor of a watered-down recasting of the old statutes and rules, which thereupon disappeared into a filing cabinet. Also in his area of responsibility were humanitarian actions of the Order in Africa including the distribution of UNHCR aid packages, which also happened to include condoms. Similar activities were repeated in the following years. A commission, established by the Vatican, to examine these accusations, which identified violations against the teachings of the Church, was simply ignored by Boeselager and the German section of he order from which he came. Additional problems came up especially in and from Germany … nevertheless the influence of the German Association continued to increase.
In the meantime Boeselager had risen to the number three position in the Order, that of Grand Chancellor. But his problems from the past and the resulting tensions with other members of the Order’s government got in his way. That led the head of state and Order, Grand Master Fra (Brother) Matthew Festing to request his resignation several times. Every time, however, Boeselager refused…. This serious breach of the rules of the Order led immediately to a disciplinary procedure and thus to the suspension of (Boeselager’s) membership in the Order. Since Boeselager was no longer a member of the Order, the Grand Master had to remove him from all his offices.”
This article reads like a response to the article “A Combat Group against the Pope?” by Jörg Bremen, which had appeared on December 13 in perhaps the leading German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (“FAZ”). Now in recent years the FAZ has become a authoritative mouthpiece for the German hierarchy. For example, it published a hit piece against Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, so hated by the German clerical Establishment. Martin Mosebach wrote an impassioned protest against that article (without naming its title or author) which contributed to the bishop’s removal. Then, while this September rumors were flying about an imminent regularization of the FSSPX by Bergoglio, I myself remained skeptical. For hadn’t the same FAZ a few months earlier published (one more) article viciously attacking the FSSPX? Given how beholden to the German church Bergoglio seems to be, I very much doubted that, whatever his own views might be, he would cross them on this issue!
Now according to this inflammatory article on the Order of Malta:
(Boeselager) will not yield. He even views the work of the order as endangered: service to the sick and needy of every kind. We hear in the Vatican that Boeselager has … some powerful supporters who know of his work from Asia to Lebanon.
Fra Matthew Festing, rather, appears to have fallen under the pressure of groups in the Order, which are trying with Cardinal Burke to transform the Fraternity into a battle group against the Pope. In so doing Festing is probably allowing himself to be utilized by Burke. The Pope had dismissed him as the head of the congregation of bishops and in 2014 had made him, much to the annoyance of many on the Order, the head cleric of the order. (sic – this account is factually inaccurate – SC) Burke wants, for example, to preserve as solely valid the “old” Tridentine mass and appears in the vestments of the 19th century.
While the Pope has received on Friday the leadership of the protestant Order of St. John … to discuss the unconditional service in the name of Christ to the refugees and needy, Burke and Festing apparently want to return the Order to the age of (separate) confessions. Burke also belongs to the four cardinals who put the Pope under pressure with their demand that he should give clear directions in the pastoral guidance of families, while Francis makes central the fate of the individual and the mercy of God to the penitent.
In the case of Boeselager many now hope for clarification by the pope, for Festing’s ability to lead is in question. … According to reliable sources in the Vatican on Tuesday, the dismissal of Boeselager from his offices was not at all desired by the Holy See – rather, his work was appreciated there.
So the internal dispute between Boeselager and Grand Master Festing is “ideologized” as a massive clash between enemies: Burke – described as a reactionary manipulator seeking to take over the Order – and Bergoglio, the supposed champion of ecumenism, service to the poor and the mercy of God. Our German reporter depicts love for the Traditional liturgy and a commitment to a stronger Catholic identity as opposed to Christian charity and the mission of the Order. And what is at stake are the jobs of Burke and Festing, not that of Boeselager. (While “clarification” of Amoris Laetitia by the bishop of Rome is not forthcoming, the reporter’s sources evidently expect it in the case of Boeselager.)
Bremen’s FAZ “news” piece undoubtedly accurately reflects the views of the German Church – and probably that of the Vatican as well. Unsurprisingly, it is also entirely in accord with a series of recent articles on the subject in The Tablet. It’s sad evidence both of the journalistic decline of the once-reputable FAZ ( pointed out by Martin Mosebach) and the radical coarsening of language and thinking introduced into the Catholic Church by Bergoglio and his team.
In my own view, I would be surprised if Boeselager had undertaken his course of direct disobedience to the leader of the Order without previously assuring himself of cover from the Vatican. The (publicly disclosed) story is all very reminiscent of the Friars of the Immaculate – but the Order of Malta is made of sterner stuff than an Italian group of clerics.
Now in the last few weeks have seen developments in another “ chivalric order” – the Knights of Columbus. Several councils of the Knights have very active in the cause of the Traditional liturgy. For example, this year just in the New York area they organized the visit of Bishop Athanasius Schneider and the recent mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Yet conspicuously absent from the splendid mass in St. Patrick’s was the sponsor, the fraternal order of the Knights of Columbus themselves– as evidenced by several empty pews in the front of the cathedral. I was told that time had been too short to organize an honor guard….
In the last few weeks startling articles by Austen Ivereigh have attracted considerable attention. In the first, Ivereigh (a veteran spokesman of the English clerical establishment) denounced critics of Amoris Laetitia as reprehensible “dissenters.” He followed it up with comments supporting the Enneagram – and claiming approval by Bergoglio of its use. These articles appeared in Crux, an online alleged “news” site. But the interesting thing is that since March 2016 the patron of Crux has been the Knights of Columbus. It’s a surprising turn of events indeed for an organization that up till recently has had a rather stodgy, even conservative reputation. And, given its origin and history, the notion of Crux publishing an article attacking “dissent” is even more surprising.
Now Crux started in the activities of John Allen as a reporter of the – allegedly “dissenting” but actually establishment – National Catholic Reporter. Like several others (e.g. Rocco Palmo), Allen took the line of advocating the progressive Catholic agenda while flattering liberal hierarchs like Mahoney or Martini. In 2014, when the leading progressive hierarch was no longer a German, American or Italian Cardinal but the bishop of Rome, Allen moved his expanded operation to the Boston Globe. Crux was established – obviously intended to be a source of sycophantic coverage of Bergoglio’s papacy, a role very much like that of the Italian Vatican Insider, created about the same time and also under secular media patronage (La Stampa). Apparently Crux was anything but a financial success. The Boston Globe dropped the operation in March of this year. The Knights of Columbus, however, immediately picked it up as a”partner.”
At no time in this progression of owners from “dissenting” Catholic newspaper to mainstream liberal secular publication to Catholic fraternal order has the party line of Allen and company actually changed. A glance at Crux verifies that: amid bland “softball” reporting on the Church in general such as you would expect to find in your diocesan paper, we find a separate rubric “Pope Francis.” An even if he is more restrained than Ivereigh, John Allen can’t conceal his enthusiasm for the “Boston- Washington – Chicago” axis – soon to be joined by Newark – representing the spearhead of Bergoglio’s remaking of the American hierarchy. 2)
The Knights of Columbus play a direct, sometimes controversial, role in the finances of the Vatican. I don’t think that their leadership was at all unaware that stepping in to preserve a Bergoglio-friendly “news” source would be viewed favorably in the current climate of the Vatican.
What can we make of all this? On the one hand, the bishop of Rome and his partisans are pursuing a hardline progressive course in morality, theology and politics, rooted in the clerical establishment and couched in ever more incendiary language. On the other hand, we have a contrary reform movement, bubbling up from below, for a more intense Catholic life and a return to Traditional liturgical practice and piety. These conflicting trends will place the institutions of the Church under increasingly great stress. It will no longer suffice for organizations like the Knights of Malta and the Knights of Columbus to muddle through as under Pope John Paul II, concentrating on charity, fundraising and socializing. They must now choose.
- Konflikt im ältesten Ritterorden der Kirche, http://kath.net/news/57849 (December 15, 2016)
- Bremen, Jörg, Eine Kampfgruppe gegen den Papst? (FAZ December 13, 2016).