January 31, 2017, on the Knights of Malta…

I left off my last report, on the complicated and tumultuous story of the Knights of Malta (Letter #5 this year) with a “to be continued.”

I would like to write more, but at this moment there is not much that can be said.

We know this: Grand Master Festing’s very unusual, very rare resignation as head of the 900-year-old military order was officially accepted by the Order’s Grand Council on Saturday, January 28, three days ago, as required by the Order’s Constitution in the case of such a resignation.

No official vote total was made public.


Ed Pentin first reported that “only one,” then that “only a handful,” of the Council members opposed accepting the resignation. So, the resignation was accepted by a large majority of those present.

Some reports allege that Cardinal Raymond Burke, the ecclesial patron of the Order since 2014, when Pope Francis gave Burke the post in a move that was widely seen at the time as a demotion, spent an hour alone with Festing, trying to persuade him to reverse course and withdraw the resignation that he offered on January 24 to the Pope.

For example, Austen Ivereigh writes: “Even after Festing had agreed to the Pope’s request to resign, Burke tried to persuade him to retract, in effect telling him to keep fighting Francis, according to sources in both the Vatican and the order.” (link)

But Festing did not change course, and held fast to his decision to resign. (Some reports say he has been unwell physically, due in part to the stress of these recent events, and that he was in part for this reason relieved to resign a position that otherwise would have been for life He is 67.)

The man Festing had tried to expell from his high-ranking post in the Order, the Order’s Grand Chancellor von Boeselager, was restored to his post.

So Festing’s resignation, which had been tendered to Pope Francis in a secret meeting in the Vatican on January 24, and immediately accepted by the Pope, was on Saturday formally accepted by the Order itself.

With that, this chapter of the Knights of Malta story ends.

Missing, of course, are all the details of private meetings which have been kept secret. If any details of those meetings should emerge, then there would be more to tell of this story.

By “private meetings,” I mean especially:

— the meeting between Cardinal Raymond Burke (the Cardinal Patron of the Order of Malta, that is, the go-between between the Pope and the Order) and Pope Francis on November 10, when the two exchanged views on what actions to take with regard to the Order;

— the meetings between Burke and Grand Master Fra Matthew Festing in the days after November 10, when Burke communicated to Festing Burke’s interpretation of what he and Francis had spoken about;

— the meeting on December 6, when the Order’s Grand Chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, was asked to resign; he refused, and then was forcibly removed for insubordination (his account of these events may be found here);

— the meetings between von Boeselager and top Vatican officials in the days after December 6, when von Boeselager explained to those officials what had happened and what it meant from his perspective;

— the hastily-called meeting in the Vatican between Festing and Pope Francis on January 24, when Francis asked Festing to resign his post, and gave his reasons for the request;

— any meetings after January 24 between Festing and Burke.

In terms of the peculiarities and unknown potential effects of this story, I note an interesting article published yesterday by Kurt Martens, a professor of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on the Crux website (link).

Here is the central part of Martens’ analysis:

“Unfortunately, the legal reasoning used in this saga is, in general, of poor quality,” Martens writes.

“In a letter of January 25, 2017, Cardinal, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, wrote that all the acts of the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council after December 6, 2016, are null and void. Provided one can follow and accept his reasoning — why would the prime minister of one sovereign entity declare the acts of another sovereign entity null and void? — logic then leads to the conclusion that the resignation of the same Grand Master and him convoking the Sovereign Council to accept that resignation are also invalid acts.

“There is also another reason why the resignation may be invalid: If indeed the Grand Master was told to resign during an audience with the Pope and had to write his letter of resignation during that audience, as certain news outlets have reported, it is questionable that the necessary freedom to make such an act of resignation was present.”

Martens continues: “And what are we to make of the confusion in the various letters that have been made public? The letter of January 25 by Parolin states that a papal delegate will have governance in and over the order and that no immediate election of a new Grand Master will take place, while the Pope’s letter of January 27 to the members of the Sovereign Council says the papal delegate will only oversee the spiritual renewal of the Order…”

Martens notes, finally, that “the position of the Order of Malta under international law is similar to the one of the Holy See: both are not countries, yet they are both recognized as subjects of international law, capable of maintaining international relations with countries and other international entities.”

Why does he note this similarity? Because “by undermining the position of the Order of Malta, getting involved in its internal governance and threatening its independence, the Holy See has created a precedent that should not be repeated. It could, in the long run, threaten its own position in the international field.”

One other important detail worth noting.

On the website of the Knights of Malta, a series of statements made by Festing during December and January which had been published as his “official acts” while he was Grand Master are now simply no longer to be found.

If you look for the texts, it says, simply, “not found.”

It is as if Festing’s texts had never existed.

Some journalists certainly copied those statements when they appeared; I myself did so.

But, for the world, the voice of Festing, which was so powerful during the seven weeks from December 6 to January 24, has been — with regard to those weeks — stilled (the web site does still contain Festing’s January 10 speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Order of Malta).

Why are these texts erased? Because, along with the Pope’s decision to ask for Festing’s resignation, a second request was made: that all of his actions following the December 6 decision to remove von Boeselager as Grand Chancellor, including that decision itself, would be “null and void.”

Thus, the Order’s website is now a “void” when it comes to the many words written by Festing during those very contentious days.

Now, an update on the Italian avalanche…

Meanwhile, I also wished to update you on the story of the Italian vacationers in a mountain hotel in central Italy covered by an avalanche.

In the end, after a day of hope, when 10 of the vacationers were pulled out safely from under tons and tons of snow and broken trees, there was only sorrow.

No other people were saved despite several more days of frantic efforts. Several people were found dead, having frozen to death.

The final total: of 40 people covered by the avalanche, 11 survived. A total of 29 people died.

All of Italy mourned.

“The last two corpses were removed from the rubble around midnight Thursday morning and rescue teams are convinced they have now accounted for all of the persons present when the disaster hit,” Thomas Williams wrote on January 27 for Breitbart news. (link)

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What is the glory of God?

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