Letter #7, 2017: Posters against the Pope

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February 6, 2017, Monday — Posters against the Pope

“Ah, Franky [referring to Pope Francis using a Roman dialect form of Francis which suggests great familiarity], you’ve put Congregations under supervision, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of the Immaculate and ignored Cardinals… But where in all this is your compassion?” —Words addressed to Pope Francis written on dozens of posters in Rome which appeared in about 40 locations in the city center on Saturday morning, February 4. The posters show Pope Francis with a stern, rather unmerciful expression on his face, and the words above form the caption for the photo. The words are in Italian, but in the Roman dialect, as if to give the suggestion that the posters are an expression of the common people of Rome. The posters are not signed. There is no indication of who made them, or who paid to have them made. The city of Rome said no permission had been granted for the posters to be displayed, that they were “abusive,” that is, unauthorized. For this reason, the posters soon began to be covered up with white posters carrying the words “affissione abusiva” or “unauthorized advertisement” (it is hard and time-consuming to completely scrape off a poster once the glue has dried, quicker and easier to simply cover it with a blank poster). The world’s press quickly picked up the story, attributing the posters, most often, to conservative or traditional Catholics who oppose the reforms of Pope Francis. It was seen by many as the most visible sign yet of an opposition to the Pope, who is now close to completing the 4th year of his pontificate. Note: the letters “SPQR” above the poster (below) refer to the Latin words from more than 2,000 years ago: “Senatus Populus que Romanus” meaning “The Roman Senate and People,” that is, the government of Rome, meaning these spots are for official posters and advertisements approved by the city…

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Posters of a stern-looking Pope Francis appeared on walls around Rome on Saturday morning, February 4, listing the Pope’s actions against some conservative Catholics and concluding, “Where is your mercy?”

Written in local Roman dialect, the posters lamented that the Pope had “removed priests,” “decapitated the Knights of Malta” and “ignored Cardinals,” echoing some of the major complaints some conservative Catholics have about Pope Francis’ recent decisions.

The poster reads, “A France’, hai commissariato Congregazioni, rimosso sacerdoti, decapitato l’Ordine di Malta, e i Francescani dell’Immacolata, ignorato Cardinali… ma n’do sta la tua misericordia?”

The word France’ with an apostrophe is typical Romanesco (Roman dialect), where the last part of the name is dropped off (in this case, the “esco” of “Francesco“), almost as a form of endearment, as with a child or dear friend; it is a very familiar way to address a Pope, almost shockingly so.

So from these very first two words, from this form of address, the implication is of an appeal to Pope Francis from those who are either close to him, or are mocking him, that is, speaking of hi in a satirical way, like the satirical, anti-papal placards posted on statues in central Rome 200 years ago.

In other words, from the first words, those citizens of Rome who saw and read these posters knew that this was either a direct appeal to, or a direct attack — in a satirical way — on… Pope Francis.

The text continues: “You’ve put Congregations under supervision, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of the Immaculate, and ignored Cardinals… But where in all this is your compassion?”

The posters were not signed by any group.

Police immediately launched an investigation to discover who were responsible, aided by closed-circuit cameras, the ANSA news agency said.

And various Catholic blogs in Italy exploded with comments on the matter, some expressing great indignation at such a public attack on the Pope (link), others saying that Francis needed to realize how his actions have left many more traditional Catholics feeling he has abandoned them.

One Italian blogger by the name of “Enza” on veteran Vaticanist Marco Tosatti‘s web site, went so far as to say that he would not be surprised to learn that the posters were not put up by conservatives, but by devilishly clever enemies of the Church, non-believers, atheists, who want to divide and weaken the Church.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet echoed that view, saying the posters were a “work of the devil,” designed to sow greater division in the Church (link).

The blogger “Enza” continued his speculation by saying he would not be surprised even to learn that the posters were produced and distributed by allies of the Pope, with the goal of gaining support for a future suppression of conservative Catholic positions, once the conservatives are blamed for the disrespectful posters, a sort of “poster false flag” if you will.” He wrote: “Oppure: se fosse che chi ha fatto fare ed affiggere i manifesti siano stati ambienti bergogliani, per dargli l’opportunità di attaccare i ‘tradizionalisti’ e fare rappresaglia? Esattamente come Nerone fece bruciare Roma per dar la colpa ai cristiani. Nerone argentino?” (“Or: is it possible that those who made and put up the posters were from Bergoglio’s circle, to give him the opportunity to attack the ‘traditionalists’ and to retaliate against them? Just as Nero had Rome burned to blame the Christians. An Argentine Nero?”)

So the blogs, as so often, were filled with all sorts of talk…

But even Father Antonio Spadaro, a serious man, a Jesuit, editor of the influential Jesuit journal, Civilta Cattolica, a close friend of Pope Francis, seemed rather emotional when he wrote this on his Facebook page:

“There have appeared in Rome fake-popular anonymous posters, highly paid, against Pope Francis. It’s the sign that he is acting well and is irritating some people very much. Those posters are threats and intimidations. In faux Romanesco to persuade people that they are from the people. Of course not! The real ordinary people do not debate about the Order of Malta, or the canonistical ‘dubia‘ of cardinals. For heaven’s sake! Behind this are corrupt people and there are strong powers that mount strategies to remove the Pope from the heart of the people, which is his great strength. And the result is the opposite effect.”

Here is the original Italian:

«A Roma sono apparsi manifesti anonimi finto-popolari e ben pagati contro Papa Francesco. È il segno che sta agendo bene e sta dando molto fastidio. Quei manifesti sono minacce e intimidazioni. In finto romanesco per tentare di far credere che siano popolari. Macché! La gente vera non discetta sull’ordine di Malta, o su canonistici “dubia” cardinalizi. Ma per carità! Dietro c’è gente corrotta e ci sono poteri forti che montano strategie per staccare il Papa dal cuore della gente, che è la sua grande forza. E il risultato è l’effetto l’opposto». (link)

So, we will be expecting news soon of who is accused of having created the poster and posted it throughout the center of Rome. That may come at any moment. So stay tuned…

Meanwhile, several other important things have just happened:

(1) On Thursday, February 2, there was a press conference at the headquarters of the Knights of Malta on via Condotti which attempted to bring an end to the turmoil surrounding the Order in recent weeks. The main speaker was the Order’s Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, who had been removed on December 6, launching this crisis in the Order. With the Vatican’s intervention, he was reinstated, and the man who pushed for his removal, Grand Master Matthew Festing, himself resigned his post at the Pope request on January 24. Essentially, the point of the press conference was to tell the world that recent drama in the Order is finished.

The reinstated Grand Chancellor, Boeselager, speaking on behalf of the “entire government” of the Knights, listed six priorities for the future:

— to restore the “leadership in line with the Constitution of the Order” and to bring it back to “normality”

— to “reaffirm” the Order’s “loyalty to the Holy Father” and to “reassure our members and everybody that the government of the Order is and will remain at the service of the Holy Father.” He said the Order’s “devotion” to the Church’s teaching was “irrevocable and beyond question.” Furthermore, he said the Order regrets allegations of a “conflict of interest raised against members of the commission set up by the Holy Father.” Such allegations “are baseless and unfounded,” he said, adding that they “look forward to setting up a special delegate the Pope will appoint.”

— to see to it that “humanitarian and social medical work” would remain “at all times at the center of the government’s activities”. Such work has “never been more relevant and needed,” he said. He stressed he would not allow “distractions” in the Order’s governance to “jeopardize” such work, and that its “decentralized structure” would ensure its activities were “safeguarded.”

— to strengthen diplomatic relations, including cooperation with UN agencies such as the UNHCR, the UN commission for refugees.

— to assist refugees and migrants, saying their need has “never been greater,” noting the situation in Syria.

— to raise the Order’s voice to ensure humanitarian laws are upheld; in an oblique criticism of President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, he said the Order was “alarmed and concerned by the proliferation of discriminatory positions towards immigrants, not least, based on their national origin.” He warned of the “monstrous consequences” that can come from policies “based on origin and race.”

So the press conference came to an end under the banner of a crisis met and settled…

(2) However, on Friday, Christopher Lamb, correspondent in Rome of The Tablet in England, wrote a startling article saying that the Knights drama is “by no means finished” (link).

Lamb, based out of London, has consistently given excellent coverage of Grand Master Festing’s position in this drama (Festing is British).

Here are key excerpts from Lamb’s surprising article:

The Tablet

FORMER GRAND MASTER SAYS KNIGHTS’ DRAMA “NOT FINISHED”

03 February 2017 | by Christopher Lamb in Rome

The Knights of Malta’s former leader has come out fighting saying the saga involving him, the Vatican and his leadership of the order is “by no means finished.”

Matthew Festing resigned as Grand Master last week after a meeting with Pope Francis, a move that signaled his capitulation in a very public battle between the knights and the Holy See.

But speaking to The Tablet, Festing has stressed the complex dispute is far from over, raising the possibility of him trying to make a comeback as Grand Master or even a legal challenge to the validity of his resignation.

“This is an extremely complex situation, it is extremely fluid, and by no means finished” he said in a brief telephone conversation. “Given all this it is not appropriate for me to say anymore.”

The former Grand Master resigned following a bitter dispute with the Vatican sparked by Festing’s sacking of his number three, Albrecht von Boeselager in a row about the distribution of condoms.

The dismissal was backed by Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Order’s patron and prominent critic of Pope Francis, who claimed with Festing that the action was the wish of the Holy See.

This turned out to be incorrect [editor’s emphasis added, RM] and following a Vatican investigation Festing stepped down and von Boeselager was reinstated…

[end of Lamb’s article]

(3) But was this really incorrect (as Lamb and others now seem to take for granted)?

Are we really in possession of clear evidence about the instructions Pope Francis gave to Cardinal Burke with regard to the moral problems, and the presence of non-Catholic (freemasonic) elements, in the Order of Malta, and what action to take?

Strikingly, there has just emerged a new report on precisely this point: giving insight into the instructions that Pope Francis gave to Cardinal Raymond Burke in their private meeting on November 10, and in a follow-up letter to Burke dated December 1.

The onePeterfive website has summarized the new evidence here (link).

It is based on a fundamental article by Riccardo Cascioli in Italian found here.

Those who read Italian should read the whole article in the original Italian.

For those who do not read Italian, here are excerpts from the translation provided by Maike Hickson of onePeterfive. In several places I insert my own editor’s notes; otherwise, all the text below is by Riccardo Cascioli; it is his reconstruction of what happened in the case of the Pope’s December 1 letter to Burke:

That Letter from the Pope to Cardinal Burke

By Riccardo Cascioli

2 February 2017, La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana

[…]

This is the letter [written by Pope Francis to Cardinal Burke] sent after the personal meeting that Cardinal Burke had on November 10 [2016] with Pope Francis, to whom he had explained the delicate situation of the Order concerning the position of Albrecht Boeselager, of which we speak in another article. This letter, was also made known to all the members of the Order’s Sovereign Council, and it has been hitherto used as a (serious) indictment against the same Cardinal Burke.

[My editorial note: Cascioli never tells us how he managed to see this letter from the Pope to Cardinal Burke, which he then quotes from. Perhaps Burke showed Cascioli the letter. But, since the letter was “made known” to “all the members of the Order’s Sovereign Council,” it could be that Cascioli was able to learn of the contents of the letter from a source other than Burke.]

[…]

Burke, in reality, has always denied being the instigator of the dismissal or having used the words of the Pope in a fraudulent way, but the letter actually has a much less conciliatory tone than what is claimed by Cardinal [Pietro] Parolin.

After urging Cardinal Burke to vigilance “in carrying out his task of ‘promoting the spiritual interests of the Order and of its members and the relations between the Holy See and the Order’ (Constitutional Charter, art. 4 par. 4),” the Pope asserts first of all that “manifestations of a worldly spirit which are contrary to the Catholic faith or are of relativistic character must be prevented from being introduced into the Order, including affiliations and associations, movements and organizations.”

The reference is to the alleged infiltration of Freemasonry among the Knights of Malta that the Pope, in private conversations, has recalled several times.

“If this is found to be the case,” Pope Francis continues, “the Knights who were possibly members of such groups, movements and organizations will be asked to withdraw their support, since it is incompatible with the Catholic faith and membership in the Order.”

The second chapter concerns the problem of the distribution of contraceptives in poor countries: “Particular care will also be taken,” the [papal] letter reads, “that methods and means contrary to the moral law are not employed and distributed in charitable initiatives and relief efforts. If in the past some problems have arisen in this area, I hope that it can be completely resolved. I would be frankly displeased if, in fact, some senior Officials – as you yourself have told me – while knowing of these practices, especially regarding the distribution of contraceptives of any kind, have not intervened until now to put an end to it.”

Clearly, then, the objective was set out by the Pope.

But what about how to deal with those responsible for the scandal?

“But I do not doubt,” writes Pope Francis, “that, following the Pauline principle of ‘practicing the truth in charity’ (Eph4:15), it will be possible to enter into dialogue with them [emphasis added] and to achieve the necessary corrections.”

[My editorial note: This is evidently the passage that will be picked up again in the December 12 and 20 letters from Secretary of State Parolin to the Knights of Malta, when he writes that the Pope did not instruct Burke to expel anyone from the order, only that there should be a “dialogue” initiated to resolve any problems.]

There is a clear directive here, but above all a wish. What happens if, instead, those responsible do not intend to resolve the problem?

As we have explained in the main article, in fact, this is not about a small isolated problem but rather about practices which were carried out at least until very recent times and above all, which were shared ideologically by those responsible like Boeselager, who up to 2014 was directly responsible for these projects. From all the re-tellings of the story it seems clear that there was the Grand Master’s attempt to call Boeselager to his responsibilities, which was rejected [emphasis added] prompting the Grand Master then to dismiss Boeselager, and the sovereign Council to elect his successor as Grand Chancellor.

[My editorial note: Cascioli says here that Boeselager rejected the Grand Master’s attempt to call him to his responsibilities, which then led the Grand Master to dismiss Boeselager. We would have to have a transcript of the December 6 meeting of the Knights’ leadership to determine what really happened.]

How things went from there is recent history, but reading the clear directives of Pope Francis, one cannot but wonder that the end result is that the one objectively responsible for the projects condemned by the Pope has been reinstated and proved to be the winner, while those who tried to follow the Pope’s orders were ousted, humiliated and subjected to the media attacks.

[My editorial note: In the following, three final paragraphs of his report, Cascioli makes two main points: (1) that there was a slight difference in emphasis between what the Pope wrote to Burke (more focused on solving the problems) and what Cardinal Parolin wrote to Grand Master Festing (more focused on dialogue and very intent on keeping Boeselager in his post); and (2) that no light is being shed on the bequest of 120 million Swiss francs left to the Order of Malta in a fund now in Geneva.]

The letter also confirms that different positions on the case of the Order of Malta have come about between the Pope and his Secretary of State, with Cardinal Parolin quite resolved to support Boeselager as the true and proper commissioner to the Order.

A fact which raises some curiosity has been augmented by another detail not yet reported. The Holy See has, in fact, decided to nullify and invalidate all the acts of the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council since this past December 6. In this way, not only is the dismissal of Boeselager rendered null, but also – and here is the detail – the appointment of an internal investigative committee commissioned by the Grand Master to investigate the mysterious inheritance of 120 million deposited in Switzerland – of which [matter] so much has been spoken in recent weeks and about which the Grand Master was essentially left in the dark. Informed (and interested), it seems, on the other hand, was Boeselager. Now this investigative commission will be no more.

[end of Cascioli’s article]

So what do we have?

Within a few hours of their appearance, the satirical “anti-Francis” posters were taken down or covered over by “Illegal Posting” signs from the City of Rome.

As for the Pope, when asked about conservative criticism of him in a November 2016 interview with Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire, he replied, “I don’t lose any sleep over it.”

Still, if Lamb’s report about Grand Master Festing is accurate — that is, if the story of the Knights of Malta conflict is “by no means finished” — we may have new surprises in the days and weeks ahead.

In the midst of all this intrigue, of course, we must remember the essential: the essential being, the essential identity, of the Church is to be the mystical body of Christ. What this means is a mystery, of course, but I hope to be able to reflect more on its meaning in future letters.

At the very least, it means that our lives are hidden in Christ, and are linked to his resurrection, that true event in which he overcame death itself, so that we too, now and always, may believe that doubt and darkness and death and deceit will not prevail… the very gates of hell will not prevail…

(to be continued)

P.S. If you join one of our pilgrimages, to Rome and other places, we discuss such things, and sometimes meet with people mentioned in these reports, over a simple Roman meal. Please write to pilgrimages@insidethevatican.com if you would like to join me on one of our upcoming pilgrimages, perhaps at Easter in Rome, and we will send you a list of dates and places.

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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