quarta-feira, 8 de fevereiro de 2017

Why the pope has taken control of the Knights of Malta

Why the pope has taken control of the Knights of Malta
The Vatican clashes with an ancient chivalric order

The Economist explains
Feb 8th 2017
by J.H.

ON FEBRUARY 2nd, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Angelo Becciu as his special delegate to the Order of the Knights of Malta, an exclusive, centuries-old Roman Catholic fellowship. He told him to collaborate with the Order’s acting head for the “reconciliation between all its members” and to work for it “spiritual and moral renewal”. The letter in which he gave these instructions completed a virtual takeover of the Order that began on January 24th when the pope forced the resignation of the order's grand master, a 67 year-old Briton, Matthew Festing. What is going on?

Popes have occasionally sent representatives in to crack the whip over monastic orders suspected of veering from the doctrinal straight-and-narrow. But the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which defended pilgrims to the Holy Land during the Crusades, is an order of chivalry. And a singular one. Like countries, the Order has sovereignty (its knights having previously ruled Malta). Yet it no longer has territory beyond its headquarters on the fashionable Via Condotti in Rome. From there it dispatches ambassadors and issues stamps, coins and even its own licence plates. The only similar, sovereign entity with little or no territory is the Holy See. So Francis’s putsch is akin to the annexation of one state by another.

The Order today is an international body with around 13,500 knights and dames. It organises humanitarian initiatives in many parts of the world. But its leadership is formed of the rich and noble. A clash with Pope Francis, a champion of the poor and an adversary of privilege, was perhaps inevitable at some point. The showdown was triggered on December 6th when Mr Festing dismissed his grand chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, after he refused to step down over claims, which Mr Boeselager denies, that he allowed the distribution of condoms in Myanmar. The Vatican appointed a commission of inquiry. The Order responded with a statement that, to protect its sovereignty, “it should not co-operate”. Two weeks later, the pope summoned Mr Festing to demand his resignation. Shortly afterwards the Order’s governing council agreed to its grand master’s removal and the appointment of an interim leader. Mr Boeselager has since been reinstated.

The affair has left some Catholics wondering if the pope is less stringent about artificial contraception than the Catholic catechism, which teaches that its use is sinful. But there have been suggestions that the affair is about more than birth control. There have been claims of freemasonic infiltration and a power struggle within the Order between Germans and Italians. A London-based Catholic weekly, the Tablet, reported that the former grand master had objected to the Vatican commission because of links between three of its members and an unidentified “Geneva fund”. What is more certain is that this opaque affair has become the latest stage in an continuing trial of strength between Pope Francis and his traditionalist critics. Even before the appointment of Archbishop Becciu, the Vatican had the power to appoint a representative inside the Order. Raymond Burke, an arch-traditionalist and critic of the pope, is regarded as having been made its cardinal patron—in order to keep him on the sidelines. Then by making Archbishop Becciu his “exclusive spokesperson in all matters relating to relations between the Apostolic See and the order,” the pope has not just sidelined, but humiliated, one of his most outspoken adversaries.

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