MALTA. THE REGIME IN DISTRESS, THE SEARCH FOR A TRANSITION.
29 Maggio 2020
Dear Readers of Stilum Curiae, although everything appears quiet, there are a lot of initiatives and intrigue boiling in the Order of Malta, and much fear that the present leadership will be ousted in the coming months. Read below.
Dear friends and enemies of Stilum Curiae, it is well known that Palaces have eyes and ears.
And in the era of swift communication, even the most swampy and emblazoned contexts do not seem to be very snobby…on the contrary!
You will recall that we shared with you about ten days ago regarding the maneuverings within the Order of Malta and the tension that exists among the zealous ultra-collaborators of the deceased Grand Master, Brother Giacomo Dalla Torre. Recall the letter sent by the Grand Commander Brother Ruy Gonçalo do Valle Peixoto de Villas Boas, who is presently the “Interim Lieutenant” of the Order, to a few (carefully selected) future electors of the next head of the Order, to the exclusion of others. If you need a refresher on the story, you may read it here.
Well, there are some new developments…which seem very interesting to us.
First of all, it appears that last Saturday, May 23, an email was sent to all of the professed Knights – that is, to all the religious of the Order – in which the secretary of the last two or three Grand Commanders (who has thus been an employee of the order for at least fifteen years) communicated to everyone that Brother Marco Luzzago had “changed his email address.”
So what, you ask? First of all, it must be said that such a communication by a secretary is highly irregular, because we understand that the office of the Grand Commander (which, we remind you, is still in Portugal) does not usually send circular communications of this sort; and furthermore, ordinarily when someone changes their email address it is they themselves who communicate the new information to others. What’s more, we did a little looking around on Facebook and found that Brother Luzzago has his own Facebook page, and so it does not appear that he is so non-technologically savvy that he would not know how to send an email by himself.
We further note that this communication by the secretary was inexplicably sent two more times, with a space of one hour between each email…to the same recipients. Why would this be, we ask? The only explanation that comes to mind follows the same trail that we described to you a few days ago, and that is that the present government of the Order, which has been displaced by the sudden death of Dalla Torre, is trying to buy some time – as we have seen in the letter with which the Interim Lieutenant indefinitely extended the period of the vacancy of the seat of the Grand Master – but on the other hand we cannot exclude the possibility that the Vatican intervened through Cardinal Becciu, the special delegate of Pope Bergoglio, who perhaps reminded Boeselager and company that the procedural norms of the order direct that the election of the new head of the Order must take place within three months of the death of his predecessor.
So, you will ask, what does Brother Marco Luzzago have to do with all of this? Well, the answer is that this pot-bellied gentleman, born in 1950, who presents himself in his Facebook photo in a red golf pants and a plaid shirt, is one of the formally professed Knights of Malta who is “eligible” for the office of Grand Master, according to the existing rules. With this communication, therefore, it is as if the Lieutenant – or somebody working for him – wanted to say to everyone “remember that among the various “papabile” there is also Brother Luzzago”… and we do not believe that this reminder has been done only because he is short of stature, as can be seen from other photos on the Internet.
Is it possible that Luzzago is an indirect (and probably unaware) proxy candidate for the present secretary? While nothing can be definitely excluded, it seems there is a high probability that this is so. On the other hand, this rumor has been making the rounds within the Order for several weeks, and so this would be a further indication supporting our hypothesis. The real question is, why would anyone want Brother Luzzago as the head of the Order? Well, it appears that the seraphic man of nearly 70 lives in a house of the Order and in fact has never held any sort of governing office…Choosing him as head of the order, even if only temporarily, would reward him for his service, certainly, but would also expose him to a vicious circle of blackmail and patronage interests to whom he would necessarily have to submit in some way.
Naturally, this is in no way an attack upon his personal integrity. It seems that everyone holds him in high regard as a great and good man. But all of this attention being given to him really does seem very suspicious.
All of this is falling into place in a moment in which the government of the Order feels not only lost, but above all almost obsessed by the famous “reform project” that it wants to continue at all costs in a closed box.
And in fact there is another email from May 14, formally signed by the Grand Commander and sent to all of the professed Knights, in which the elderly Portuguese nobleman openly rebukes Brother James-Michael von Stroebel, regent of the sub-priory of Our Lady of Lourdes in the United States, for having sent to the religious brothers of the Order a letter expressing his disappointment that he learned only indirectly that a plan of reform was sent to the Holy See for approval (the letter that we commented on a few days ago) with ever having been seen by the professed brothers.
Apart from the fact that such a public rebuke is highly irregular (truly an anomaly in a religious Order that is so attentive to protocol and courtesy like the Order of Malta), in the email – which we have seen – the Portuguese Interim Lieutenant contradicts “his” preceding letter which we have already commented on, because he says that the American brother was out of place to express himself as he did, because the plan of reform supposedly was supported by the deceased Brother Dalla Torre, and thus it would need to be carried out and implemented, as we have already said, like a sort of “last wish” of the deceased. In addition, the Lieutenant claims that the present matter concerns only a plan of reform for the constitutional charter of the Order but not yet for the Order’s Code of Law itself, which – he says – still needs to be properly translated and improved.
In the same email, the Lieutenant (or whoever was writing on his behalf) insisted that he has the consent of the Sovereign Council for the entire operation, as if the executive was carrying out a consultative function (at least at this phase) on behalf of all of the professed brothers, who, at least theoretically, ought to be the primary people interested in the planned reform of their religious life. In addition, it should be noted that the rules of the Order’s religious life are contained entirely in the Code of Law, not the Charter, and so we really have to wonder what exactly was given to Cardinal Becciu for the Vatican’s approval, and why.
In this regard, internal whispers tell us that in reality, what has been sent to the Vatican is not so much a blueprint for true reform but only a schema that tweaks a few things here and there but that in the end is attempting to create a formal settlement along the lines of “we need to change things so that everything can remain the same.” Thus there is no serious reform project happening in the way called for by Benedict XVI.
Thus, calling attention to Brother Luzzago would benefit the present administration as a way of appeasing the Vatican about the prospect of a forthcoming “Council of State” (which, we remind you, will have the task of electing a new Grand Master) that perhaps would be able to provide for the appointment of an “Interim Lieutenant of the Grand Master” right away on the first ballot, and not only after three failed ballots according to the existing election rules, a bit like the way Dalla Torre was elected. Luzzago’s profile would give the idea of his being a transitional leader, but it would certainly be a great disappointment for him to be ousted after only one year in office in which he would spend more time saying “thank you” to everyone than doing anything for which he could be thanked.
We don’t know exactly what may be in the intentions of those who are in the shadows of this ever-more-intriguing palace intrigue, but it appears ever clearer that the present government of the Order is revealing many insecurities and is attempting, more and more clumsily, to cover up the various flaws that the system is showing more and more, with embarrassing evidence.
Proof of this is that on May 27 another communication was sent out, once again signed by the Interim Lieutenant, Brother Ruy Gonçalo do Valle Peixoto de Villas Boas, this time directed to the professed members of the Order (both Knights and Chaplains) in which, after the usual obligatory lines about the constant remembrance of the deceased Grand Master (which far beyond devotion seems to be a sort of mantra) reiterates that the convocation of the Extraordinary General Chapter in November is “valid and stands” and adds – objectively contradicting what has previously been said – “I am confident that we will be able” to deliver a proposal “in time” containing the amendments of the Constitutional Charter and Code of Law. And so it seems that the fateful “drafts” of which so much has been said and written no longer exist … and if so, then what is the purpose of having an Extraordinary General Chapter? The whole matter continues to grope along in uncertain confusion.
And then the letter breaks the news: it refers to “drafts that have already been agreed upon” with the Holy See, and it informs the Order that Cardinal Becciu has proposed the constitution of two working groups – thus it is clear that all of the various groups that have been working up until now on the phantasmic “reform plan” had no actual objective utility). The first group will concern itself with the so-called “First Class,” the religious brothers, and the second will focus on institutional matters (as if the two things are really separate). In the text we also read that Becciu must nominate delegates of the Holy See to these working groups before the end of the month (thus within just a few days if we take it literally), a sort of group of “supervisors”…but we ask ourselves if it would not be more opportune if Becciu himself would oversee the work.
Thus the Interim Lieutenant communicates that for the first group he has delegated (meaning on behalf of the Order, if we understand correctly) Msgr. Jean Lafitte (who is the Prelate of the Order), Msgr. Andrea Ripa (who is Chaplain of the Order but also Undersecretary of the Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican) as well as two professed Knights who are members of the Sovereign Council (thus members of the present administration): Brother Emmanuel Rousseau and Brother John Dunlap.
For the second group, he names Prof. Francesco Gazzoni (who is the Legal Counsel for the Order), Prof. Paolo Papanti (who is President of the Magistral Court of the first instance and also a former Vatican Judge) and – what a coincidence – Professor Giuseppe Dalla Torre, who is the former President of the Vatican Tribunal but who was also, although not a member of the Order, a consultant of the late Grand Master (he is his older brother, as is well known): the letter says he is “acquainted with the texts.”
The Interim Lieutenant then informs his readers that he has asked Winfried Henckel, who is also a member of the Sovereign Council “in obedience,” to coordinate the work of both groups, whose activity – the Lieutenant takes pains to specify – will begin only after the Holy See has nominated its delegates. And yet, even this passage appears unclear: why not wait to make known the names of the members of the working groups, from both sides, instead of placing pressure on the Holy See in saying that it must announce the names of its delegates separately? And above all, why have two separate working groups and not one single joint commission, given that the Order is a legal entity that qualifies as a “mixed person” of both religious and lay members?
The Interim Lieutenant, with a barely concealed enthusiasm that is most unlike the Portuguese, speaks of a “challenging schedule” in order to finish the work before November and says, “I truly hope we can keep to it.”
But the second page of the letter contains the contradictory sting: it announces that because of the pandemic it will not be possible to convene the State Council within the three months required by law, and it specifies that the legal consultants have expressed themselves in favor of considering the circumstance as a “cause of force majeure” (correctly) which makes it impossible to follow the norms laid down for the election of the new Grand Master; to which the Interim Lieutenant adds that he hopes to be able to convene the State Council to elect the next head of the Order “in the days following” the Extraordinary General Chapter. We would like however to ask only two simple questions: What difference is there – in terms of the number of people involved – between holding a General Chapter and holding a State Council? It seems that if you can hold one you could just as easily hold the other… And so, the order of the two meetings inverts all logic, since an “ad interim” government cannot possibly promulgate such an important reform for the life of the Order.
The question arises as to whether the current administration is afraid of a State Council that could overturn the tables and change the balance of power, because it could potentially choose as Head of the Order a professed Brother who was little inclined to submit to the present “clientele.” It appears that the present administration wants, in a very obvious way, to stop the project of reform, shoring up its effort by involving various personalities of the public life of the Order who are already inserted into the present system of government, and thus have a vested interest – even if it is in good faith – in keeping the present balance of power in the Order.
On the other hand, the announcement of two working groups does not offer much hope for those who maintain that the religious character of the Order is the most important thing to consider, especially at this stage, and that it is objectively endangered, because such a “functional” choice seems almost to prefigure a division of the Order of Malta into two branches: one, shall we say, “lay” and the other “religious,” naturally with an obvious preeminence of the first and an ever more obvious marginalization of the second.
However, experts in international law remind us that the Order enjoys a sovereignty that resides properly in its religious essence, that once it has ceased (whether because of a marginalization in its functions of governance or through being reduced to a mere decorative element of “folklore”) would also bring with it, as a logical consequence, the loss of sovereignty of the Order, which is no longer territorial (as it once was on the Island of Malta) but subjective, in virtue of a provision in international law guaranteed by the Holy See, as was affirmed clearly and definitively by an official pronouncement at the time of the great institutional crisis of the Order in the 1950s.
Throughout all of these clumsy maneuvers, in fact, the Holy See seems almost like it has been marginalized and reduced to a merely functional towing position, but we still do not know up to what point this unilateral manipulation of the rules of the game will be acceptable to Becciu.
It seems, in fact, that the Order is playing with two decks of cards: on the one hand it insists on advancing the idea of having an Extraordinary General Chapter, for which purpose it flaunts as certainties things that are quite nebulous; on the other hand, there is the flurry of emails in recent days with which it is attempting to remind everyone that the present administration is excellent and very capable, that the deceased Grand Master wanted the reform, and in which it even seems to be indicating its preferences among the potential candidates. It’s as if it wants to demonstrate that it has “Plan B” ready in case Becciu reminds them that a provisional government cannot carry out a constitutional reform.
We will keep following this story…
Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino @pellegrino2020
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