Friday, January 27, 2017

The Autocratic Pope?

"The most remarkable thing about the Order of Malta controversy is not that the Grand Master, Fra’ Matthew Festing, has resigned. That is extraordinary enough, especially given that it was apparently on the invitation of Pope Francis. No, the most astonishing feature of the story is today’s announcement that the Pope will install an Apostolic Delegate to run the Order. In effect, this abolishes the Order as a sovereign entity. Under international law, what we are seeing is effectively the annexation of one country by another."
"Today’s announcement of an Apostolic Delegate to be appointed by the Pope represents, essentially, the total abrogation of the Order’s sovereignty. Yet the consequences for the Holy See itself may, in the longer term, be equally or even more severe. The disregard for the mutually sovereign relationship between the Holy See and the Order sets a precedent in international law, which will now lurk under the Secretariat of State’s dealings with other governments like an unexploded bomb."
"If the Holy See can so brazenly insert itself into the internal governance of another sovereign entity whose legitimacy stems from a mutual agreement under international law, it now has no legal defence should another sovereign body, say the government of the Italian Republic, choose to view the independence of the Holy See as a similarly anachronistic formality. Cardinal Parolin should prepare to see today’s actions cited as legitimate precedent when the IOR, commonly called the Vatican Bank, finds its sovereign independence under renewed pressure from other countries or international bodies. Pope Benedict XVI said that “a society without laws is a society without rights”; the naked disregard for the law shown in recent weeks has sown a bitter harvest for the Holy See’s diplomatic corps to reap in the future."
"The Pope himself is, as he has often stated, not a lawyer, nor is the law something he is known to have much interest in. Those in his curia who have prompted him to this action have deliberately served him, the office of the papacy, the international sovereignty of the Holy See, and of course the men and women of the Order of Malta, incredibly badly. I suspect it is now just a matter of when, not if, they come to regret it."
Ed Condon, Catholic Herald, 25 January 2017 

"After personally asking the head of the Knights of Malta to resign, Pope Francis is rumored to be reinstating the controversial official at the center of the dispute – despite the official's role in overseeing the distribution of contraceptives through the order's charity."
"German aristocrat Albrecht von Boeselager was fired from his post as Grand Chancellor on the grounds that he violated his promise of obedience. He refused to resign even though his superiors asked him to, thus violating his vow of obedience and allowing the order to take disciplinary action. His superiors had asked him to resign after learning how he had overseen the distribution of contraceptives while leading Malteser International, the order's charity."
"While Pope Francis has spoken boldly of valuing the poor and the dangers of wealth and vanity, the courting of the powerful Von Boeselager family by the Vatican is evident. In addition to the controversial reversing of the decision of the Grand Master and forcing his resignation over Albrecht von Boeselager's dismissal, Albrecht's brother Georg was in the midst of the controversy appointed to a leadership position at the Vatican bank."
Claire Chretien,, 25 January 2017

"It's not for the Holy Father to accept the resignation of the Grand Master, it's for the sovereign council to accept it."
"You are giving ammunition to those who are opposed to an international status for the Holy See."
Kurt Martens, professor of canon law, Catholic University of America
Pope Francis delivers his blessing during a June 2016 meeting with Grand Master of the Knights of Malta Matthew Festing. Pope Francis will now name a delegate to run the embattled Knights of Malta, effectively taking over the sovereign lay Catholic order after Festing resigned in a bitter dispute with the pontiff over condoms.
Pope Francis delivers his blessing during a June 2016 meeting with Grand Master of the Knights of Malta Matthew Festing. Pope Francis will now name a delegate to run the embattled Knights of Malta, effectively taking over the sovereign lay Catholic order after Festing resigned in a bitter dispute with the pontiff over condoms.  (Gabriel Bouys / AP)

Pope Francis distinguished himself earlier by cordially offering the status and influence of his office to the Palestinian Authority's President Mahmoud Abbas, a man who has chosen to overextend his elected mandate to represent Arab Palestinians, thus effectively legitimizing the PA's self-assigned 'right' to recognition as a sovereign state in the United Nations, bypassing the need to negotiate with the State of Israel. This man's selective choice to be oblivious to the PA President's frequent incitements to violence against Israeli citizens bespeaks an authority whose link to the heavenly father must be questioned.

His newly-observed officiousness in intervening in an internal sovereign matter of the Knights of Malta in a dispute pitting the leader of the sovereign lay Catholic order against an appointed Grand Chancellor answerable to the Knights' Grand Master speaks of a display of arrogance and unseemly interference. The aristocratic order of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta operates a network of charitable operations worldwide. Albrecht von Boeselager tasked with overseeing one of the charitable arms, Malteser International, had been distributing condoms in Myanmar.

Since Church practise strictly forbids artificial contraception, the order was incensed at the "disgraceful program", all the more so that Mr. von Boeselager refused to resign when his superior,  Matthew Festing, ordered him to. When Pope Francis sought to overturn that order through a papal investigative commission, the Knights' Grand Master Festing, refused the Pope's interference. Summoning Mr. Festing to the Holy See as though he had the authority to dictate to a sovereign state, the Pope pressed his divine authority, leading Mr. Festing to offer his resignation which the Pope accepted; an absurdity since he had no Malta authority to do so.

Irrespective of which, after the audience and Francis's acceptance of Grand Master Festing's resignation, the Pope decreed that he would take it upon himself to appoint a papal delegate to take the place of the dismissed grand master. When Mr. Festing refused cooperation with the Pope's investigation, he cited the obvious, that the Knights were a sovereign entity. That canon lawyers supported his defence, questioning the Pope's intervention in law to intervene in another sovereign entity's internal governance. Pope Francis has erred under international law.

He now joins an uncommonly ungracious pantheon of world figures, not the least of whom is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also extended his authority illegally by annexing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine's possession. Although the Crimea has a long history of Russian involvement and had an especial historical significance in the joined history of Ukraine and Russia, and was indeed part of Russia before it was deeded a half-century or so earlier to Ukraine, there is no such link between the Vatican and the Knights of Malta; they have never been joined other than through cordial relations -- up to the present.
Fra’ Matthew Festing at the Order of Malta's traditional new year audience (Order of Malta)
Fra’ Matthew Festing at the Order of Malta's traditional new year audience (Order of Malta)

The Knights of Malta, in fact, an ancient order dating back to the late Medieval era and the Crusades, is involved in providing health care in hospitals and clinics around the world in places where people live in poverty, neglected and otherwise forgotten. It cares for people of all faiths, traditionally, with the use of a hundred-thousand staff and volunteers dedicated to charitable action. Which, it might be said, is more accountability to the world at large on a practical level than the Catholic Church which focuses on spiritual guidance; important yes, but under this pope seemingly hypocritically.

Pope Francis has humiliated a peer -- deserving of far better treatment in recognition of the highly respected patrician order he serves and his dedication to it -- while choosing to rescue a wealthy papal benefactor from the embarrassment his dismissal represented, owing to his own lack of attention to the precepts and traditions of the order he was meant to serve. Gross malfeasance of a social order on both their parts. What happened to the humble, endearing man of God who was also the man of the people?

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