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LONDON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Order of Malta is warning associates against defending former member Henry Sire, author of The Dictator Pope, and to refrain from making statements "offensive" to Pope Francis.
On Holy Saturday, British knights received an email demanding they "pay the utmost attention to avoid exposing the order to any further damage and to swiftly report any behaviour which is not in line with that envisaged by membership in the order," the Catholic Herald reported Tuesday.
According to the email, the president of the British association asked that the message be circulated among all members, "especially those who use social media." Any knight found expressing support for Sire or making statements "offensive" to Pope Francis would face disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion under Articles 119–125 of the code of the order.
A spokesperson told the Catholic Herald the email "was sent to all Order of Malta members worldwide." The message is the Order of Malta's latest attempt to distance itself from Sire and his work.
An Oxford-educated author, in November 2017 Sire published The Dictator Pope under the pen name "Marcantonio Colonna."
Built around testimony from anonymous sources inside the Vatican, the book paints a decidedly negative picture of Pope Francis, depicting him as "authoritarian and manipulative."
In a December 2017 interview with Church Militant, Sire elaborated, saying the pontiff "has continued the policy for which he was well known as archbishop of Buenos Aires of deliberately making use of morally weak subordinates because of the hold it gives him over them."
"Not only have prelates of scandalous character been promoted by Pope Francis," he added, "but they have been given a platform to promote their program of changing the Church's teaching on sexual morality, as they attempted to do with considerable success in the two Synods on the Family."
Sire explained the prospect of the Vatican discovering his identity didn't trouble him, as the main consequence would likely be "fresh publicity."
But, he added, he was concerned about "the possible purge of people whom the Vatican may choose to associate with me because punishment of the slightest dissidence is the hallmark of the present papacy, and the propaganda machine is relentless in blackening the reputation of those who are identified as being 'on the other side.'"
His controversial portrayal cost Sire his membership in the Order of Malta.
In March, after being outed as the author of The Dictator Pope, he was ousted from the order for allegedly "breaching its constitution." The order also disassociated itself from his book, calling it "vile."
But Sire fought back. In a press statement issued after his suspension, he blasted the order's move as unlawful:
It would be relevant to point out that the proceeding against me (of which I was notified yesterday) is wholly illegal. ... It has been initiated by the Grand Chancellor, with the consent of the Lieutenant of the Order. The laws of the Order stipulate that such a proceeding has to be initiated by my superior, who is the grand commander, and he has not been involved.
"Moreover," he added, "the superior has to initiate the process without communicating with the grand chancellor. These requirements have been comprehensively ignored."