An explosive exposé is revealing an intricate web of deceit and treachery within the ranks of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, including collusion from the German bishops as well as shady financial dealings. Members of the order, long roiled by the disturbing happenings over the past several months, are now going public with the truth.
Church Militant obtained a document circulated internally among the Knights of Malta showing that the disgraced Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, actively colluded with high-ranking Vatican prelates to bring about the ouster of Grand Master Fra' Matthew Festing — his superior to whom von Boeselager owed obedience. Even more, the document reveals financial corruption and a power struggle between the faithless faction, largely led by dissident Germans, and the more orthodox members, who favor and support Festing.
In January, Festing stepped down as Grand Master after Pope Francis requested it — an unprecedented act, as the position of Grand Master is one of life tenure. Although no reasons were given for the pope's request, many understood it to be linked to Festing's actions in December, when he suspended von Boeselager for involvement in a condom distribution scandal involving Malteser International, the Order's charitable arm von Boeselager oversaw.
The internal document notes: "In addition, unexplained financial dealings involving Boeselager and a number of his associates caused considerable disquiet to the Grand Master."
The document also adds another significant detail: "Boeselager went straight to see the all-powerful Cardinal Marx to plot and plan his re-instatement and his revenge against Fra' Matthew Festing, the Grand Master."
"Boeselager seemed determined to have his own coup d'etat against his own Prince and Grand Master," it continued, "and somehow contrived to get the Vatican to support this rebellion."
The German Church, whose hierarchy is largely dissident on matters of Church doctrine concerning marriage and the sacraments, is enormously wealthy. In addition to the $5.3 billion it reaps from the German Church tax, the German bishops' conference's own revenues total about $3.5 billion annually, making the German Church wealthier than the Vatican.
"The fact is that the German bishops practically control the Vatican because they are so rich and the Vatican so poor," the document claims. "Indeed, the Vatican is constantly in danger of becoming insolvent and is easily manipulated by the German bishops."
The document implies that von Boeselager was able to convince Cdl. Marx along with other figures of influence in Rome to manipulate the Holy See into deposing Festing and reinstating von Boeselager.
The entire affair is set against a backdrop "of financial deals and transactions" that involve "high prelates in the Vatican, high officers of the Order of Malta operating behind the back of the Grand Master, French benefactors, Swiss lawyers and unexplained, and somewhat murky transactions, at the Vatican Bank, the so-called Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR)."
At the root is a faction of faithless knights invested in changing the Order's ancient mission:
A small but influential group within the Order of Malta would like to eliminate the religious character of the Order, jettison the Knights of Justice and their full religious vows, jettison the noble character of the Order, and turn the Order into yet another, run-of-the-mill and common-place secularised non-governmental organization (NGO)
It continues, "Although they hotly deny it, these subversives are clearly set upon a secret course to destroy the Order of Malta and replace it with something entirely different, secular and emasculated and no longer fully Catholic."
The intricacies of the various financial transactions and individuals involved are complex, but at the heart of the maneuverings to oust Festing was a sweetheart deal offered to von Boeselager by one Ariane Slinger, a wealthy Swiss lawyer with numerous financial dealings involving the Vatican. She was privy to highly sensitive information, and used that information to her advantage.
Slinger had been sued by various parties (including the Knights of Malta) in 2012 for failure to disburse funds from a trust. In 2014, she offered a business arrangement to von Boeselager whereby the Knights would benefit financially if they would agree to drop their legal case against her.
Von Boeselager, along with a handful of high-ranking Vatican prelates, discussed Slinger's proposal favorably among themselves.
But one man stood in their way: The Grand Master, Fra' Festing. He refused to accede to Slinger's deal, concerned about the ethical implications.
"Panic now began to set in because Slinger was starting to make threats," the internal report reveals. "She knew some of the internal financial deals and workings of the Vatican, including, we must presume, some that were not entirely straightforward."
It continues: "She was, it is now believed, indicating that, if she continued to be sued, or was prosecuted, she would tell the world what she knew about those internal Vatican financial dealings and would not hesitate to publicize the names of certain high-ranking Vatican officials and their connections with the transactions and deals."
It thus became clear it was time to get rid of Festing.
Von Boeselager's victory was complete when, only one day after Festing had stepped down, he was reinstated as Grand Chancellor — and it was done at the decision of the very men involved in the deal with Slinger: Abp. Silvano Tomasi, Marc Odendall and Marwen Senhaoui, members of the papal commission to investigate Boeselager's suspension.
"It would be hard to imagine a more obvious, nay blatant, conflict of interest in any commission of inquiry," the document declares. "This is naked corruption at the highest levels. It stinks and reeks of conspiracy and collusion."
Once von Boeselager was reinstated, he went ahead with the deal with Slinger, signing an agreement on March 1 resulting in a 30-million franc donation to the Knights from the trust fund controlled by Slinger.
"The sum of 30 million represents a quarter of the trust fund," the internal report notes. "Although Boeselager says that the matter had been examined and the complaint against the trustee (Ms Slinger) has been withdrawn, nevertheless it remains the case that the real source of the money is unclear."
The 30-million franc donation is "by far the largest single donation to the Order of the last ten years."
This sum is now being handled by the Vatican Bank, which is being generously compensated. "The position now is that the nearly insolvent Vatican has decided to take charge of the 30 million," the report claims, "which was due to be given to the Order of Malta, and is apparently holding it, in the IOR, on 'trust' for the Order. However, the Vatican managers are being paid handsomely for looking after this fund."
To make matters worse, Cdl. Raymond Burke, spiritual patron of the order, was de facto suspended when the Holy Father named Abp. Angelo Becciu as papal delegate to the Knights of Malta.
This same Becciu, in the name of the pope, sent a letter to Festing on Holy Saturday ordering him not to attend the conclave to elect a new leader of the order. He phrased his request "as an act of obedience," citing fears that Festing's presence "would reopen wounds."
But some speculate the real reason for the order stems from von Boeselager's fear that Festing — who remains a respected and highly popular figure among the Knights — could be re-elected Grand Master.
The Vatican afterwards relented, and Festing now plans on being present at the conclave.
"According to sources within the order, Fra' Festing will be coming to Rome to vote in the Saturday election partly because his absence as a professed knight would have invalidated the ballot," Vaticanista Ed Pentin reported.
After months'-long machinations and maneuverings to depose his superior, von Boeselager may soon see his work undone if Festing is once again voted leader of the ancient military order.
But if Festing is not re-elected, and von Boeselager and the German faction remain in power, the internal document warns: "The next step is the plans of the 'German Interest' to secularize and emasculate the Order of Malta and turn it into a mere secular NGO, thus mutilating and obliterating its 900-year traditions and its sacred, religious character."
"If that succeeds," it adds, "then the Order of Malta will be no more."