I have been reflecting on Henry Sire’s article about the recent decision by the Grand Master of the Order of Malta to ban the celebration of the Traditional Mass in the Order. He seeks to debunk the idea that the former Grand Master, Fra’ Matthew Festing, who likes the Traditional Mass, was seeking to impose this Mass onto everyone in the Order, and was simultaneously trying to create (along with Cardinal Burke, the Order’s Cardinal Patron), a center of opposition to Pope Francis and all he stands for.
This narrative is set out with great enthusiasm, but absolutely no evidence, by Christopher Lamb of the UK’s liberal Catholic weekly The Tablet, and by Austin Ivereigh, the English biographer of Pope Francis, among others. Sire points out (to simplify) that Festing believed that Pope Francis had ordered him to deal with the problem of his subordinate, Albrecht von Boeselager, distributing condoms as part of the Order’s charitable works. Festing was forced out (according to Sire) by an alliance between Boeselager and Cardinal Parolin, the powerful Secretary of State, who had a common interest in stopping the Order of Malta disputing the way a large sum of money, supposedly left to the Order, was being distributed.
One of the curious things about these rival narratives is the uncanny resemblance they have to the rival accounts of what went wrong with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, a traditionally-inclined order which has now been all-but suppressed. Liberals insist that the problem was that the founder, Fr Stefano Manelli, was trying to force all the Friars to adopt the Traditional Mass, and that Pope Francis was obliged to intervene for this reason. The rival theory (again, to simplify) is that at least part of the motivation of the intervention wasmoney, which Fr Manelli was accused of siphoning off, a charge later dropped at the insistence of theItalian courts. (The money was in the charge of lay trustees on the order’s behalf.)