Is the Vatican City State annexing the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta?

The Holy See issued a press release about the SMOM (aka Knights of Malta) dust up. HERE

Traduzione in lingua inglese

Yesterday, 24 January 2017, in audience with the Holy Father, His Highness Fra’ Matthew Festing resigned from the office of Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Today, 25 January, the Holy Father accepted his resignation, expressing appreciation and gratitude to Fra’ Festing for his loyalty and devotion to the Successor of Peter, and his willingness to serve humbly the good of the Order and the Church.

The governance of the Order will be undertaken ad interim by the Grand Commander pending the appointment of the Papal Delegate.

[00139-EN.01] [Original text: Italian – working translation]

This leaves me perplexed.

Let’s break it down into manageable bites.

So, it seems that, the Grand Master offered his resignations to Pope Francis.
Then, Francis accepted the Grand Master’s resignation.
Now, Francis will appoint a delegate to lead the SMOM.

On the other hand, the SMOM is SOVEREIGN.   It is the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta.  They are a separate entity from the Holy See that, like Vatican City State, has sovereign nation status.

Moreover, as I have been instructed, article 6 of the constitution of the SMOM says that the Sovereign Council alone accepts or rejects the resignation of the Grand Master.

In fact, the Pope is informed only by the Council, for validity of the acceptance or rejection of the resignation.  The Pope does not accept the resignation.

In addition, the SMOM’s Constitution does not foresee a “pontifical delegate”.  There is no such critter in the life of the SMOM.  There is a pontifical delegate in canon law for religious institutes.   But, though there are aspect of the religious life to the SMOM, the SMOM is not a religious institute.  SMOM is a sovereign nation.

Is this a play by one state to take over the SMOM?

How would His Holiness react were, say, Italy to decide that it is time to absorb the Vatican City State.  “Your Holiness, we are appointing a ‘civil delegate’.”   If you erode the sovereignty of one, is it possible that you are eroding your own sovereignty?

I could use some schooling by someone who is well-versed in international law and who understands the SMOM.

Surely in the vast readership here, there is somebody who gets this.

Is it a play for the money they control?

I just read that there is involved in this mess a bank account with many millions.  HERE

Is it a play to suppress another “tradition?

I call the readership’s attention to a tweet from a sycophantic writer for La Stampa:

Did you get that?  Decoded: “What was that talk that Francis doesn’t decide?  Order of Malta – check.  Now – cappae magnae.”  Get it now?  This is a dogwhistle.  No?  Someone of that writer’s ilk mentioning the cappa magna can only be a reference to Card. Burke, other Cardinals near him, and others who uphold traditional doctrine, identity, customs, worship, everything.  These are the next targets to be “absorbed”.  Knights of Malta: CHECK  Card. Burke, Patron of the Knights of Malta: ___ ..?

A few years ago I saw a magnificent exhibit at the British Library on the monstrous Henry VIII.  In that exhibit were stunning primary documents, including Thomas Cromwell’s hit list, in his handwriting, of names of people who were to be disposed of, including Thomas More and John Fisher.  Their names were crossed off.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    From Pope seizes power from the Knights of Malta, brutally ending 900 years of their sovereignty, by Damian Thompson:

    Pope Francis has demanded and received the resignation of the Grand Master, Fra’ Matthew Festing, a devoutly orthodox Englishman of (even his critics agree) unimpeachable orthodoxy and personal morality. The Vatican has now taken charge of the order while the knights search for a grand master acceptable to Francis. Canon lawyer Dr Edward Condon this morning tweeted out the reaction of many Catholics:

    In terms of international law, the Holy See just annexed another sovereign entity.

    A source close to the order puts it more bluntly: ‘It’s like an invasion. Nine hundred years of sovereignty wiped out overnight.’

    Festing’s ‘resignation’ follows a complicated row over the dismissal of the order’s Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, who was accused of permitting the distribution of condoms by the order’s international charitable arm.

  2. Elbereth says:

    Who would have guessed that Malta would be so much in the news these days?
    Political intrigue–check
    Cardinal Burke–check
    Kasperite bishops scandal–check

    Connections between the three? I’m wondering ….

  3. Lucas Whittaker says:

    Your observation that Pope Francis might be setting an unwanted precedent that Italy could take note of speaks to the Obamaescque funk that we witness coming from “the top”. Alas, as I have written before, the problems seem to be due to the continuation of Pope John XXIII’s call to “aggiornamento”, as opposed to politics. I like Pope Benedict’s now-old line that we are to become a sign of hope for weary man, because it speaks to the fact that those who are already in the Church are taken care of with appropriate sacraments and liturgy. We must put an end to the outlandish “ad extra” concerns that depart far from reality. That will not happen while we are being led by men who lack sound theology and philosophy. As you point out in other posts, Father Z, we traditionalists must each do our own part to . . . well . . . do everything that is within our grasp, beginning with living an authentic life in Christ: Identifying with Jesus. While it remains true that only saints set the world on fire, small groups of traditionalists who are not yet walking moral miracles could do a lot to support this or that priest, or to organize a Sunday TLM. My uncle is a Marine, and so I recall their motto, “Semper Fidelis!”

  4. excalibur says:

    This could get very interesting; 2017, eh.

    Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.


  5. excalibur says:

    I pray for Pope Francis every day, but I believe that he must be removed now. But as it is 2017, the whirlwind approaches. The ruined city is the Holy See, ruined not by bombs, but by a bombastic man, who at 80, shows serious signs of mental decline.

    During the course of the interview, the reliable friend of communist and socialist dictators, … even went so far as to declare that in Communist China “the churches are packed. In China they can worship freely.” Pope Bergoglio thus blithely betrayed the persecuted members of his flock in China, who have been driven underground because they refuse to worship in the “packed” churches of the schismatic, government-controlled, pseudo-church called the “Patriotic Catholic Association.”

  6. Kerry says:

    …as was Cromwells’s name crossed off in another Book.

  7. jfk03 says:

    I weep and pray for the Church.

  8. JARay says:

    What I read makes me very disappointed indeed. I really did hope that the Sovereign Order of Malta had told the Pope to back off. That is what should happen. Perhaps there still is time?!

  9. Potato2 says:

    Remember when Pope Francis was a newbie Pope he made a big deal pointing out that a Pope was not powerful but rather just a brother bishop amoung equals?
    Talk of collegiality and talk about not being in a place to judge? My my how the pendulum has swung! I think Burke wins in the long run. He has successfully set himself as an opposition but still remained faithful. I would have laughed at the idea but in the future we may be calling Burke a pontiff in the next election.

  10. Uxixu says:

    The Knight’s council should reject the resignation and refuse the delegate. I’ll continue pray for Francis to lead the Church with wisdom and orthodoxy and to repent of this sordid business as he WILL come before the throne of Our Lord, as will we all, yet his burden is heavier for he must also account for the souls lost that were entrusted to him and to those those he’s allowed to become (and remain) bishops. As St. Robert Bellarmine wrote, with that consideration, there was no one he pitied more than the Pope.

  11. gracie says:

    There’s always room for (dark) humor regarding our current situation:

    Austen Ivereigh is a liberal British Catholic writer (used to work for the Tablet)

  12. Raymond says:

    I wonder if in the very near future, a lay person, or perhaps a retired religious, priest or bishop, would finally have the guts to challenge Pope Francis in a loud and clear voice out in the open, ideally in a setting such a general audience in the Vatican. The nefarious machinations of this papacy have to be stopped.

    Some years ago, for example, someone heckled the homosexualist, Episcopal (non) bishop Gene Robinson while he was preaching in a London church, telling him to repent.

  13. Sieber says:

    This will certainly lend no encouragement to the SSPX.

  14. frmh says:

    The Pope has power to depose state sovereigns within Christendom, that is old news that is clear from Pope Gregory VII onwards.

    Pope Francis has used his God given authority, whether it has been used for good or ill is another matter, but I am uncomfortable with people saying that he can’t do this, or that he is “annexing” another state…. no, Pope Francis has the power to depose the leaders of Christendom. The Knights of Malta are about the only sovereign state that you could argue fall within Christendom and so the Pope has the right to depose their prince.

  15. Amerikaner says:

    SMOM should re-elect Festing as the Grand Master and ignore the delegate. and Festing should accept a new election of him. that way he showed graciousness in offering his resignation but acceptance to the will of the Order in accepting to lead again.

  16. kiwiinamerica says:

    If Cardinal Burke had not been the Patron of the Knights of Malta, I don’t believe this essentially internal governance matter of a charitable organization would have generated anywhere near the heat and controversy and there would have been no “takeover” by the Pope.

    This is part of Francis’ vendetta against Burke. The objective of the “Merciful One” is to humiliate Burke. The Knights of Malta are a club of convenience to do it. Which reminds me……Cardinal Burke recently noted that any correction of Amoris laetita would be served on Francis some time after the Epiphany. I’m thinking that Francis may have already been ‘served” …….privately…….and the Knights of Malta fiasco is his response.

  17. Austin says:

    It seems to me that a smoking gun in this dismal affair is the mysterious donation of more than 100 million Euros to the order through an unspecified Swiss source — something that happened as a prelude to the debacle.

    An amount of this size would be enough to tide the Order over a period of considerable turmoil — it is almost as if someone knew that a period of turmoil might be coming.

    Further, the source of the donation appears to have connexions with the German-speaking knights who lead the faction that would like to see the Knights operate as if they were a typical international NGO. Something George Soros appears also to be working towards. Does he have a few spare bob lying about? Why yes, yes he does. (As do the German bishops thanks to their beloved Kirchensteuer shakedown.)

    Is there any other area of Church life in which Germans seems to be fomenting and funding radical change? Why yes, yes there is.

    It is almost as if, 500 years after the revolt of Luther, his compatriots decided it was time to finish off the Whore of Babylon right and proper.

  18. Will Fra Matthew Festings name be known along with Jacques de Molay? I’ve read with interest, that Clemens V. tried to unite the Knights Templars with the Knights Hospitallers (which are now the SMOM).

    Fra Matthew might escape the autodafe in Rome due to the high particulate matter pollution, it would not correspond with the Laudato Si encyclical.

  19. vetusta ecclesia says:

    Also in Cromwell’s diary: The abbot of Glastonbury to be tried at Glastonbury and afterwards hanged there.


  20. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    The link in “I just read that there is involved in this mess a bank account with many millions. HERE” does not seem to be working. This seems a useful reference, meanwhile (with its links):

  21. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    Thanks for this! Claire Chretien writes, “Pope Francis is rumored to be reinstating the controversial official at the center of the dispute” – Tablet wishful thinking (and hopeful propagandizing)? She also provides an interesting link:

    one of the three being “Albrecht’s brother Georg”!

    Jobs for the Von Boeselager boys?

  22. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    Interesting thought – excellent suggestion: let us hope! (Though Edward Pentin noted that Eugenio Ajroldi di Robbiate, Communications Director for the Order of Malta, said, ‘there is “absolutely theoretically” a possibility that Fra’ Festing’s request will be rejected, however, “it’s improbable”’, you have neatly pointed out how accepting it need not be the end of the matter!)

  23. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Interesting detail in Edward Pentin’s 18 January article – whatever its full portent: “the Register has learned that the Holy Father has taken the claims seriously and has asked Cardinal Raymond Burke to review the order’s constitutions specifically to address the allegations of a German strategy to remake it into what some fear would become a quasi-non-governmental organization. The aim of the review would be to affirm the religious nature of the order, especially with respect to its highest ranks, which, until Boeselager was elected grand chancellor, used to be filled only with professed knights who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

    “The review instruction came after the order’s last elections in 2014, when the German association succeeded in placing three very senior positions (grand chancellor, grand hospitaller and receiver of the common treasure) into the hands of non-professed knights. The second rank, to which Boeselager belonged, is a contemporary introduction into the constitutions and is seen by some members, from the most senior ranks down, as a means of diminishing the importance of the professed knights, especially when their vow of obedience seems to be misunderstood”.

  24. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    @frmh: it would be an amazingly ironic and hypocritical choice for this Pope, out of any in recent history, to invoke his temporal authority in the Triregnum Tiara he doesnt wear in order to depose a Christian head of state….

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  27. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    First, the job of the Cardinal Patronus is to be the Pope’s Delegate to the Order; I don’t know why he would need another. This is the only bit of this that troubles me.

    Second, isn’t an attack on conservatism. Festing has been held to be liberal by some, if such labels have any meaning at in a truly Catholic setting.

    Third, His Eminent Highness put his money where his mouth was: he asked Freiherr von Boeselager for his resignation as a matter of Obedience. He did not comply, as is his prerogative, and invoked his constitutional right to a hearing. Festing was asked for his resignation as a matter of Obedience and, with a preternatural Humility, complied. He was a better man and a better example to all laity and religious for so doing. Festing is still bound by his Vow of Obdience to His Holiness, and he must give hearing (ob audire) to His Holiness, and attempt to comply with his directives if they are reasonable and not contrary to the Faith. His Holiness might, motu proprio, remove Fra’ Matthew from the Religious State, which would make his resignation moot.

    Lastly, the Order has been through this before, most recently in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It survived the fall of Jerusalem, the fall of Acre, the fall of Rhodes, the Siege of Malta, the betrayal of Napoleon, the Kingdom of Italy, and two World Wars. It will not be destroyed.

  28. THREEHEARTS says:

    Are we going to see and learn as we did with the Franciscans the same lament over the riches of the Maltese knights. The appointed Franciscan a guardian appointed by the Poppe bemoaned I cant get at their money. it is held in trust to laymen? That is why although the secular courts have cleared them of wrongdoing they are still not re instituted. I think it is still the ancient jealousies of local ordinaries for the riches of the different orders.

  29. Am I the only one who foresaw the possibility (inevitability?) that putting an Argentinian in charge of the governance of the Church meant that Argentinian style governance would come along as part of the package?

    I love the Holy Father, and love his attitudes and preaching about mercy, openness, etc. But the lack of clarity combined with the almost constant intrigue is disappointing to say the least.

  30. TimG says:

    @ Venerator Sti Lot

    Exactly. The plot thickens :(

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  32. acardnal says:

    This could end up being a mixed martial arts combat between the Swiss Guards and the Knights of Malta!

  33. TimG says:

    Edward Pentin has posted an update. He is claiming sources say the pope had Festing write his resignation on the spot and implicate Cdl Burke as influencing him in the decision to can the Chancellor. This makes me physically sick to my stomach and frankly very angry. Not for me – for Cdl Burke.

  34. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    TimG refers to:

    His article includes: “On Saturday, the Sovereign Council meets to vote on whether to accept the Grand Master’s resignation.”

    I don’t know if this high-handedness expressed in Cardinal Parolin’s letter (of which a full translation is given) will bring them to reject the Grand Master’s resignation, but it seems they had better reject it, if they do not wish to resign the Order’s sovereignty with a wimper or in silence.

  35. TimG says:

    It is coming full circle. In addition to the connection between the chancellor and Secretary of State, and the fact that Cdl Burke is involved, crux is reporting that abp bergoglio (the victim) was involved in a plot to be sidelined by the Order and the conservative bishops in Argentina. This is like a Robert Ludlum novel.

  36. Geoffrey says:

    kiwiinamerica said: “Cardinal Burke recently noted that any correction of Amoris laetita would be served on Francis some time after the Epiphany. I’m thinking that Francis may have already been ‘served’ …….privately…….and the Knights of Malta fiasco is his response…”

    You, sir, are a genius.

  37. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    What are the contours of this? What does it have to do with Una Sanctam of Boniface VIII, and both Leo XIII with respect to it in Mortalium animos and Pius XII in his speech of 7 December 1955 (all of which I’ve seen noted together, and have not yet looked into)?

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