In 2014, Pope Francis made enigmatic comments about the possibility that he had only "two to three years left to live." Virtually everyone attributed these comments to the possibility that the then-77 year-old pontiff may have been dealing with some type of health problem. This researcher suspected, however, that Francis' comments were actually in relation to the power struggle unfolding behind the facade of tranquility the Vatican has been putting up.
As I noted then, Francis, a Jesuit and alleged Progressive, had been facing stiff opposition from the conservative wing of the Curia. Just how progressive Francis truly is is highly debatable, but he has been increasingly at war with the Vatican's keepers of orthodoxy.
While much hype has been surrounding the non-CIA coup of the Trump administration for the past month or so, recent events in the Catholic world indicate that Pope Francis may be the one facing a coup before the year is finished. As such, his 2014 prediction of only having two to three more years left appears to be right on schedule.
"It began as a fight over staffing. Then came a dispute about condoms, followed by papal concerns about Freemasons. Now it has become a full-scale proxy war between Pope Francis and the Vatican traditionalists who oppose him, with the battleground being a Renaissance palace flanked by Jimmy Choo and Hermès storefronts on Via dei Condotti, Rome’s most exclusive street.
"The palace is the headquarters of the Knights of Malta, the medieval Roman Catholic order. For months, an ugly, if quiet, spat over staffing simmered behind the order’s walls before spilling across the Tiber River to the Vatican, setting off a back-and-forth between the two camps. Francis and his lieutenants sent angry letters. The Knights ignored them, claiming sovereignty.
"This past week, the dispute finally blew up. Fed up, Francis took the extraordinary steps of demanding the resignation of the order’s leader — a decision the Knights officially accepted Saturday — and announcing that a papal delegate would step in."The Knights of Malta along with their allies in Opus Dei are the bedrock of far right wing Catholicism (some may even call it clerical fascism). And contrary to what countless conspiracy hacks have written about either order online, neither the Maltese knights or Opusians have an especially warm relationship with the Jesuits. As was noted before here, the Jesuits have in fact frequently found themselves at odds with these powerful conservative chivalric orders since at least the 1970s.
|the emblem of the Jesuits|
The strife within the Sovereign Military Order of Malta appears to have been between Grand Chancellor Albrecht von Boeselager (whose father was part of the 20 July Plot to assassinate Hitler) on the one hand and Grand Master Festing and the American archconservative Cardinal Raymond Burke on the other. Continuing with The Times:
"A few days later, Cardinal Burke relayed his concerns about Mr. Boeselager to Francis. According to supporters of the cardinal, the pope then instructed him to root out from the order elements of Freemasonry, Vatican shorthand for adherents of a secular moral view. But other people familiar with the events inside the order said the pope had also urged Cardinal Burke and the order’s leadership to settle the dispute through dialogue.
"Instead, Mr. Festing and Cardinal Burke met Mr. Boeselager on Dec. 6 and requested his resignation, claiming, Mr. Boeselager said in a statement, 'that this was in accordance with the wishes of the Holy See.'..
"He also refused to leave, setting off a disciplinary procedure that led to his suspension, and reached out to the Vatican for confirmation that the pope desired his removal...
"Francis was apparently not pleased about the firing and did not want the dispute to spill into the public, which it did when The Tablet, a Catholic publication in England, broke the news.
"The pope was already critical of the ornate dress favored by the Knights (red military jacket and gold epaulets) and by Cardinal Burke (a long train of billowing red silk known as a cappa magna). Francis also had a history of run-ins with the Knights during his time as a cardinal in Argentina.
"So on Dec. 21, Francis wrote directly to Mr. Festing, conveying his decisions on what he called the 'painful circumstances' and making clear that those decisions had 'value, regardless of anything else to the contrary.' Attached to his letter, signed simply 'Francesco,' were more letters from his second-highest-ranking official, Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, stating that 'His Holiness asked for dialogue as the way to confront and resolve eventual problems' and that 'he never spoke, instead, of kicking someone out!'
"Cardinal Parolin also wrote that the firing 'not be attributed to the will of the pope.' Critically, he noted that the Knights, because of the group’s status as a lay religious order, fell under the pope’s authority, and that the pope had formed a commission to investigate the firing of Mr. Boeselager. But Mr. Festing refused to comply with the papal commission, citing the order’s status as a sovereign entity and raising questions about the integrity of a commission full of Mr. Boeselager’s allies...
"Either way, the Vatican was not thrilled. On Jan. 17, it issued an unusually tough statement supporting the commission and rejecting 'any attempt to discredit these members of the group and their work.' The commission ultimately ruled that the pope did have authority over the Knights of Malta.
"On Tuesday, he exercised it. He called Mr. Festing to the Vatican and asked for him to step down, a move the Vatican announced the next day. The order followed with its own statement, saying Mr. Festing’s resignation would become official once the order’s counselors met on Via dei Condotti to formally accept it. On Saturday, they did just that, immediately reinstating Mr. Boeselager and promising to collaborate with the pope’s delegate."
It would seem that for several years Cardinal Raymond Burke (whom Francis also booted out of SMOM) had been cozying up to Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's campaign manager turned "chief strategist" who recently gained a seat on the National Security Council. Apparently in Bannon Burke found a kindred spirit. Raw Story notes:
"Steve Bannon met with archconservative Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has openly challenged the pope, during a 2014 trip to Rome to cover the canonization of John Paul II for Breitbart News, reported the New York Times.
"The American cardinal and Bannon, who is Catholic, held a 'meeting of hearts' over their shared antipathy toward Islam and their concerns that the west had abandoned traditional conservative values, according to Benjamin Harnwell, founder of the Institute for Human Dignity and a confidante of Burke...
"Bannon has maintained a focus on the Vatican since that visit, and returned to direct the documentary 'Torchbearer' featuring 'Duck Dynasty' star Phil Robertson as the reality TV star considers the apocalypse...
"Bannon has encouraged Breitbart and its Rome correspondent, former priest Thomas Williams, to champion Cardinal Burke — who was punished just weeks ago by Pope Francis.
"According to sources within the centuries-old Knights of Malta, the pope felt the chivalrous order’s grand master was following the lead of Burke, its chaplain and a Trump supporter, in disobeying Vatican authority, the newspaper reported.
"The grand master and Burke were both stripped of their powers within the 1,000-year-old order, although Vatican watchers disputed whether American politics played any role in the scandal."
With all of this in mind, Francis must have no doubt been concerned with the outreach the Trump team has been making to the Knights of Malta for months now (noted before here). One of Trump's earliest foreign policy backers was Maltese knight and former Blackwater executive Joseph E. Schmitz. Later Trump received vigorous support from suspected (thanks for the tip Andrew!) Maltese knight Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater. As was noted before here, Prince had been working closely with Trump's transition team.
Francis has good reason to be worried. Despite widespread approval across the globe, he finds himself in increasingly uncertain political waters closer to home:
"Until now, Francis has marginalized or demoted the traditionalists, notably Cardinal Burke, carrying out an inclusive agenda on migration, climate change and poverty that has made the pope a figure of unmatched global popularity, especially among liberals. Yet in a newly turbulent world, Francis is suddenly a lonelier figure. Where once Francis had a powerful ally in the White House in Barack Obama, now there is Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon, this new president’s ideological guru.
"For many of the pope’s ideological opponents in and around the Vatican, who are fearful of a pontiff they consider outwardly avuncular but internally a ruthless wielder of absolute political power, this angry moment in history is an opportunity to derail what they see as a disastrous papal agenda. And in Mr. Trump, and more directly in Mr. Bannon, some self-described 'Rad Trads' — or radical traditionalists — see an alternate leader who will stand up for traditional Christian values and against Muslim interlopers."I suspect Francis deliberately misled Burke, knowing that he and Festing would over react in relation to Boeselager. This gave Francis the reason he needed to remove Festing and Burke, two of the most conservative members of SMOM (which is in and of itself something of an accomplishment), from their positions of authority. Curiously, Pope John Paul II made a similar move against the Jesuit order in 1981 when he asserted his leadership over the order to remove Father Pedro Arrupe as its Superior General (noted here). This was done at the urging over conservative forces outraged over Arrupe's support of liberation theology. And now Francis, a Jesuit, has done the same to SMOM. Payback is a bitch, I suppose.
|Father Pedro Arrupe|
And the removal of Burke and Festing will likely change nothing. As noted above, while SMOM has publicly accepted this turn of events, it is all but certain that this his strengthen the Order's desire internally to remove Francis. Their overtures to the Trump team strongly indicate that the new President (or whoever is controlling him) is on board with this project.
And so the madness continues unabated. Until next dear readers. Stay tuned.