Farce in the Vatican

Pope Francis has got himself into a right old mess over condoms. The problem is that he can't say condoms are OK, but he doesn't want the rules enforced too strictly. Add in the Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta, and a gay butler, and you have the makings of very Vaticanesque pickle

Mass in St. Peter's Square
Tim Hedges
On 7 February 2017 15:30

It seemed in the Italian press as if one country had invaded another. It was in fact one very small country which had engineered a coup d’état against an even smaller sovereign entity which wasn’t, properly speaking, a country.

The Pope had fired the Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta. The reason? Obeying Church teaching.

It is hard to know how Pope Francis gets himself into these scrapes. What should have been a quiet private matter, if it happened at all, was in every paper in the civilised world. For sheer, bull headed, foot-in-mouth belligerence Papa Bergoglio trumps Trump.

The Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Malta was Fra’ Robert Matthew Festing, Guards Officer and son of a Chief of the Imperial General Staff. You have to be a bit socially upmarket to get on in this company, the other bigwigs being a selection of the European Catholic aristocracy.

Anyway, Festing had sacked Albrecht, Freiherr von Boeselager, the Grand Chancellor, on the grounds that he, the Freiherr, had been involved in charitable works which distributed condoms. Now, the Catholic faith is against the use of condoms, so you might imagine that the Pope would have patted the blessed Festing on the back for ridding the order of a dangerous progressive.

It is of course Francis who is the progressive, dangerous or otherwise, but, being the Pope, he can’t say that condoms are OK. As with offering Holy Communion to divorcees, he can’t change the rules but doesn’t want them exercised too strictly. So he just sacked someone for doing the right thing.

Then came the posters. All over central Rome, they featured a grumpy looking Pope and, underneath, a philippic against the Holy Father, mentioning, amongst other sins, the Order of Malta fiasco. Where is your Mercy?, it asked, referring to the Pope’s Jubilee year of Mercy.

Strangely enough, the screed was written in the Roman dialect, putting it in the tradition of the denouncers and rumour mongers of old, who used to leave their handwritten defamations on various statues in the ancient city. But no one is fooled by this. They all think it comes from Cardinal Burke.

Raymond Leo Burke is an American traditionalist who has been something of a thorn in the side of the reformist Pope. Bergoglio sacked him from several senior positions, but one he held on to was Patron of the Order of Malta.

It may well be that Burke was stirring up trouble in the removal of Boeselager and Bergoglio felt he had to put his foot down. It may be something else; as usual with Vatican scandals there are whispers of huge sums of money in secret bank accounts.

Either way, Francis has not played his hand deftly. Burke is still in place and it looks to the world as if no one is really in charge.

To add to the Papal troubles there is some new, must have bedtime reading in Vatican circles. Back in the limelight is the amazing Francesca Chaouqui, who has published a book.

Chaouqui, you may remember, was an employee of the Vatican who was said to have charged people for attending a special Mass in the Vatican on the election of the new pope. Her colleague, a priest called Fr. Vallejo Balda, is currently in prison for releasing classified information to the press. He confessed to the crime but said he had come under the influence of Chaouqui, with whom he was having an affair.

When Chaouqui denied the affair (she is married) it emerged that she had left her underwear in their hotel room and they could be produced in evidence (presumably before His Holiness). Balda further asserted that Chaouqui’s husband worked for the Italian secret service.

Now Chaouqui’s book apparently asserts that Balda is homosexual and that he moved into the Vatican with his lover who masqueraded as a butler.

Racy stuff, great copy, but that is not the point. Slowly but surely the Vatican is becoming a laughing stock.

Come on, Francis, I can write the advert for you: ‘Senior public figure in southern Europe urgently needs top spin doctor. Non-Catholic preferred.’    

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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