by Marco Tosatti
An English translation of the original Italian, entitled, Ordine di Malta, il Futuro: Nulla è escluso. Anche clamoroso.
Dear friends and enemies of Stilum Curiae we offer you a reflection on the situation that has arisen after the death of the Grand Master of the Order of Malta. With the death of Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, which occurred shortly after midnight on April 29, a not exactly reassuring scenario opens up for the Order of Malta. The disappearance of a leader – who, in this case, is both ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ – is always in itself something which quakes the system, but even more so – we believe – it will be for the Order of St. John who has already been experiencing a deep institutional crisis for at least four years.
Suffice it to say that already in the afternoon hours preceding the official announcement of the departure, there were discordant news (which sources tell us were sent by an imprudent letter signed by Prince Erich von Lobkowicz, powerful president of the German Association of the Knights of Malta) on the Grand Master’s state of health, who was declared dead prematurely, with a very quick update of the Wikipedia page, later corrected, following an official communiqué of the Order and the letter “signed” by the Grand Commander (the Order of Malta’s second office and responsible for religious life), the 80-year-old Portuguese, Fra’ Ruy Gonçalo do Valle Peixoto de Villas Boas.
Such a thing would never have happened in other times, not least because it is presumed that news concerning the health of the head of a religious Order who is also – a unicum in the current legal panorama – Head of State must necessarily be filtered through the entourage of close and, hopefully, trusted collaborators.
The late Grand Master had personally announced – in an unusual letter dated 24 February last – that he had health problems linked to a diagnosed throat cancer that would have taken him away from many institutional commitments because of the treatment he would have had to undergo; in that same letter, in a truly anomalous way, Dalla Torre had, among other things, written “The important decisions will remain in my hands”, as if to reassure that no one would take advantage of them. But why write it, we wonder?
All these creaks give the impression of a very frail institution in itself, which seems to forget its almost a thousand years of history of battles and victories for the defense of Christianity.
A very weak government, that of Brother Giacomo Dalla Torre, chosen for his well known bonhomie, for his integrity but also for the undisputed closeness of his noble family to the Vatican world: his grandfather Giuseppe was director of L’Osservatore Romano, while his brother, Giuseppe himself, was for decades (until a few months ago) the influential president of the Vatican Tribunal.
A government that has also shown its flaws and its pockets of incapacity since the lieutenancy that Dalla Torre assumed as a “buffer” to the wound inflicted on the sovereignty of the Order with the expulsion of the former Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing by the now untrusted Teutonic-Vatican maneuver devised by the first hunted and then reinstated Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, who also asked for the head of Card. Raymond Leo Burke, freezing him the office (which still formally exists today) of “Cardinalis Patronus”.
A singular coincidence of dates: Dalla Torre was elected Lieutenant precisely on April 29, 2017 – under the supervision of Msgr. Angelo Becciu (now Cardinal, Prefect of the Congregation of Saints), at the time the most powerful Substitute to the Vatican Secretariat of State and very faithful to Pope Bergoglio, appointed “Special Delegate” of the Pontiff to the Order – and the Lord calls him to himself on the same day, three years later.
Both as Lieutenant and even more so as Grand Master, on May 2, 2018 behind the clear placet of the Transtevere, alongside the undisputed moral and religious qualities of great value, Dalla Torre was never able to show the institutional attitude that contingencies demanded, very often allowing a form of heterodox management of the Order over which he had been placed in charge. It allowed all three Italian Grand Priories (which would be the territorial government bodies which run clinics, welfare facilities, charitable works, and to which the Order of Malta’s Italian Relief Corps [CISOM] is linked) to be managed by “procurators” and not by religious (a form of indirect commissioning). It allowed the Pope’s Special Delegate to block the novitiate for the new “professed” (i.e. those knights who take a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience and become the “first class” of the Order), thus immobilising the Order’s religious life, now reduced to a mere decorative aspect, which, if not reactivated, will be destined to be quickly wiped out. Don’t forget, among others, also the big slip-up of the prohibition in the ceremonies of the Order of the Mass in ancient rite (see here our comment at the time): an act certainly imprudent, probably the result of internal institutional blackmail, but which was also an inappropriate form of plagiarism against a presumed “apostolic” will, almost as if to demonstrate that in the Order of Malta – already badly seen in itself because it would embody (at least in principle) a certain elitist and excessively aristocratic approach to Catholicism – no voice is given to the “traditionalist” seditious people; it was also an indirect attack on the sensibility of the predecessor Festing, notoriously a lover of Tridentine spirituality; in short, it was a testimony to an alignment which probably was not necessary. It seems at least suggestive to consider that Dalla Torre died at the first light of day when the Church, in the calendar of the traditional mass, commemorates the Universal Patronage of Saint Joseph, who is also the patron saint of good death.
Beyond this – which in any case constitutes a “political” consideration of the style of government but is certainly not a moral judgement (which would appear ungenerous, even before being reckless) on the person – now with the death of Dalla Torre there are very problematic scenarios for the life of the Order.
First of all, it should be noted that the death of a Head of State, which occurs in a circumstance such as the one we are experiencing due to the planetary blockade of the pandemic, certainly suffers ceremonial repercussions, starting with the uncertainty about the funeral: Certainly, the Order of Malta is a subject of international law that enjoys, therefore, sovereignty, independence and also extraterritoriality, for which the grotesque measures containing the Italian legislation on the subject would certainly not be applicable; however, objectively, we do not believe that a rite proportionate to the dignity of a “Most Eminent Highness” is conceivable. Probably there will only be a ceremony restricted to members of the Sovereign Council and professed knights; perhaps one could hope for the consolidated practice for which, in the trigesimo of the disappearance, state funerals will be officiated in the presence of heads of state and the diplomatic corps. We shall see; of course it is a pity that the head of a religious order, who is in any case a very pious and devout man, cannot have a worthy moment of extreme greeting with the honours he is due.
But beyond the pitiless protocol problems – although in this world form is substance – the institutional scenario that opens with his death is much more significant.
The Grand Magistry’s communiqué, issued last night around 1.00 a.m., informed that “According to Article 17 of the Constitution of the Sovereign Order of Malta, the Grand Commander … has assumed the functions of Interim Lieutenant and will remain head of the Sovereign Order of Malta until the election of the new Grand Master”.
Now the problem is really big. Already from his Lieutenancy and then, in his Magisterium, Dalla Torre was to conduct and conclude the Order’s constitutional reform. Commissions were organised (in which, however, the professed religious knights were largely marginalised), there were exchanges of documents (all internal acts, nothing public, of course), and then everything fell into oblivion, in a form of acquiescence to the status quo: very imprudent for those who cannot count fifty years of government experience among them.
Everything is now in the hands of the Grand Commander.
Yes, of course, formally that is the case, but it is clear that an 80-year-old Portuguese gentleman (and not exactly sprightly at what one sees and knows), who has remained confined to Portugal, will not be able to manage a complex situation like this on his own, and will therefore need help. There is no doubt that the obscure Grand Chancellor Boeselager will pull the strings… but the first obstacle is the incomplete reform, which is therefore also useless. Because, on closer inspection, the Order is in the same stalemate that led to the election of Dalla Torre.
Art. 13 of the Constitutional Charter of the Order, in force today, prescribes that “The Grand Master is elected for life … from among the Professed Knights, with at least ten years of Perpetual Vows, if they are less than fifty years old; for the Professed Knights of higher age, who have been members of the Order for at least ten years, three years of Perpetual Vows are sufficient”. (paragraph 1), and then continues: “The Grand Master and the Lieutenant of the Grand Master must meet the noble requirements prescribed for the category of Knights of Honour and Devotion.” (paragraph 2). What does this mean?
For non-experts, the Grand Master of the Order of Malta cannot but be an aristocrat (which also seems logical to us for an Order that qualifies as “noble”); and the Constitution provides that the Head of the Order is chosen not “from among the knights of honour and devotion” (who may have been included in this category also with a “motu proprio”, also for particular merits, without having the right to do so heraldically) but that he “has the requisites required to be admitted among the knights of honour and devotion”: 4/4 (= both father’s and mother’s side) of nobility for 200 years, or: 250 years of nobility for the paternal line in addition to 200 years of the other 2/4 in addition to the amnesty for an grandfather, or: 300 years paternal line in addition to 200 years of the other 2/4 in addition to the amnesty for an grandfather, or: 350 years, paternal line in addition to 200 years of another quarter, or: 450 years paternal line.
This was one of the rules that the reform was supposed to modify, at least allowing for the possibility to range among the professed members (called “first class”), perhaps extending (this was the hypothesis) eligibility also to knights of grace and devotion (which would be the step immediately below honour and devotion), but this was not the case. And therefore the rule in force is the one mentioned above.
Given this, who could be elected Grand Master given these rules? Well, the game is complex because, on closer inspection, there is not a wide selection from which to chose. Some are candidates “only on paper”, such as Friar Luigi Naselli of Gela (born in 1930, former Grand Prior of Naples and Sicily, resigned for health reasons) and Friar Gherardo Hercolani Fava Simonetti (born in 1941, also a former Grand Commander, but very ill health); finally there would be Friar Pierre de Bizemont (born in 1944, the only French professed with eligibility requirements). Naturally, the former Grand Master Festing, born in 1949, must be added to these few eligible candidates, and perhaps put before him, for whom technically the great return is not excluded, considering the controversial resignation that followed.
The same Grand Commander could not be elected, coming from the ranks of the knights of grace and devotion, as well as the Italians fra’ Carlo d’Ippolito di Sant’Ippolito (an energetic Calabrian gentleman born in 1933, former Grand Commander) and fra’ Marco Luzzago (born in 1950, “commendatore di giustizia”, in charge of the castle of Magione), also admitted as knights of grace and devotion. To be excluded, of course, all the other professed from the other ranks.
There would then be hypotheses that would benefit a hypothetical Italian reconquest of Via Condotti, because there could also be another professed knight with the noble requisites provided for in art. 13, paragraph 2, but who is lacking those provided for in paragraph 1, such as the forty-four year old Friulan Fra’ Nicolò Custoza de Cattani (who took the solemn vows in 2016, but would have to wait until 2026 to be eligible). And then there is another Italian, who, however, today is on the verge of achieving the requirements of solemn profession: he is Friar Alessandro de Franciscis from Campania, born in 1955, the current director of the Bureau Médical of Lourdes, who would complete his three years of profession next December. Therefore, in a hypothetical procrastination linked to the contingencies of covid-19, the hypothesis of his election could also materialize. However, de Franciscis is not only a highly esteemed doctor who plays a role of clear prestige in one of the most important Marian shrines in Christendom, but also has a political past among the ranks of the centre-left area (former DC, then Margherita, UDEUR, Democratic Party) which led him to hold the position of president of the province of Caserta in 2005 and to be unpleasantly involved in legal problems inherent in that position, which were then resolved positively for him. Certainly since 2009 he has not been in politics, but it is known that in certain circles certain things never cease to be considered, especially when it comes to electing what, though sui generis, is still a Head of State.
Of course, the whole issue will be played out over time, which will certainly not be lacking given the circumstances surrounding the pandemic. It has to be said, however, that the Code which regulates the life of the Order and in art. 145 sets the time for the convocation of the Council of State (the elective body of the Grand Master, which constitutes a sort of “parliament” of the Order, in which the Grand Priories and national associations are also represented) at a maximum of three months, and therefore the time for hypothetical alliances is not so long; unless an exception to this rule is made, but even this is only a ‘school’ hypothesis.
It is clear, however, that, net of this, the influence of the German management of the Order, orchestrated by the ineffable Boeselager, will not delay in making itself felt. He certainly has almost all the national associations in his grip – a little more recalcitrant than the others – the Italian one, led by the Sicilian Riccardo Paternò di Montecupo, to which, although it has more members than the others, was arbitrarily prevented from expressing preference in the last elections in 2018 on the grounds that Italy was already represented by the three Grand Priories (two of which were already commissariats at the time) – and clearly can count on a sprawling system of control based on the management and distribution of economic funds and diplomatic privileges (just think of the choice of all the Order’s diplomats – among whom we recall the son of the very powerful former commander of the Vatican Gendarmerie Domenico Giani, now torpedoed by Pope Bergoglio). The professed (not only those “born noble”), on the other hand, are numerically few and above all appear very disorganized and demoralized; theirs is a stalemate, which seems to have neither breath nor room for action.
It is not excluded, however, that in all this the Holy See, through the special delegate Becciu, can once again extend its paw towards the Order, exercising a leading role in the election procedures, perhaps leading to the choice of a Lieutenant to temporarily hold the Order and ferry it towards the much sought after reform. But also the Lieutenant must have the requisites foreseen for the Grand Master (as we saw before quoting art. 13 par. 2 of the Constitutional Charter), and therefore the problem of the choice is also proposed, but in this case, it would be limited to only one year of government, in order to be able, at the moment of electing the new Grand Master, to range over several candidates. On the other hand, however, if this were to happen, the fracture linked to the consideration of the, albeit peculiar, sovereignty of the Order, which would be in some way vitiated by a form of external interference, would open up again.
In addition, however things go, the question of the “Cardinalis Patronus” comes up again, a position from which Raymond Burke has never been formally removed; the American Cardinal, who certainly does not need captions, elegantly never claimed any role after his ousting, which in fact created a “freeze” of his function, but considering that the rules of the Order assign to his office some tasks related to these phases, an honest definition of the problem would be desirable.
Naturally, these are political hypotheses. But the situation may not be as tragic as one thinks, and on the contrary, trusting in the strengthening of a “resistant” group, the pars sanior of the Order could take advantage of the moment for a change of course towards a more responsible autonomy and a better awareness of its past.
Let us watch.
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We were told that in our above essay of yesterday there are inaccuracies and incompleteness. We correct them here:
First of all, to the Italians should be added Fra Roggero Caccia Dominioni, Grand Prior Emeritus of Lombardy and Venice, who, however, is over ninety years old and does not enjoy excellent health … ; then it should be noted that both Fra’ Carlo d’Ippolito di Sant’Ippolito and Fra’ Marco Luzzago (who is Commendatore di Giustizia but does not reside at the Castello di Magione but at Villa Ciccolini, in Macerata) were received into the Order as Knights of Grace and Devotion and then integrated the evidence of nobility and have (as they say in technical jargon) “healed the missing quarters”, thus proving to have those requirements to be admitted among the Knights of Honour and Devotion. This practice – which at the time also followed the late Grand Master Fra’ Giacomo – is consolidated within the Order, since genealogical research can often be perfected over time, thus enabling the Order to integrate its process of nobility with new suitable and appropriate evidence.
To the eligible professed already indicated must then be added:
Brother Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein, Austrian, born in 1937, former Grand Commander who was interim lieutenant in the transition phase immediately following Festing’s resignation;
Brother Karel Paar, born 1934, Grand Prior Emeritus of Bohemia;
Fra’ Elie de Comminges, French, born in 1935, who had been missing from the Order’s public life for several years;
Brother Ludwig von Call, Tyrolean, born 1934, professor of chemistry in Innsbruck.
Finally, they point out that although it is true that Friar Alexander de Franciscis will theoretically reach the proportion between years of age and years of profession required by Art. 13 of the Constitutional Charter next December, he lacks another requirement that the same article provides for in a not inconsiderable aside, namely that of being a member of the Order “for at least ten years”, having been received only in 2012.
The circle, therefore, between the old and the wretched, closes on de Bizemont, Luzzago, Paar, von Call… and Festing.
There are also twists and turns… If we were English, we could also place a bet on it.
Meanwhile, a ramshackle obituary informs us that the funeral of the late Grand Master will be held (it is not known when) “in a restricted manner” in the Church of Villa Malta on the Aventine (extraterritorial), announcing the celebration of “a solemn Requiem Mass on a date to be defined”. No mention of State funerals. Boh.
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