Malta Diary In the middle of World War III – and it’s all about condoms!
Few may have noticed that we are dangerously close to the brink of the Third World War, a war to end all wars, the mother and father of all wars so to speak – and not because former Soviet/Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev said so last week, nor for the reasons he gave. At stake is a far greater enormous power struggle, a clash of bruised egos, a centuries-old tug-of-war for command, leadership, ascendancy and ultimately, for He Who Must Be Obeyed or perhaps Is It He Or I Who Must Be Obeyed?
The ultimate source of the fray is CONDOMS and the USE OF CONDOMS!
Very much involved WITHOUT being in any way involved is our little island of Malta. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta (The Knight Hospitaliers of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta) is at war with The Vatican and The Pope.
This is a war that has stretched back for centuries and is redolent with history underlining the struggle that has always bubbled under the surface as to whether The Roman Catholic Pope commands the Order, or is the Order independent and therefore above the authority of The Pope because its members are The Nobility?
At this stage, to avoid any misapprehensions, let me define the status and involvement of the Republic of Malta in this almighty struggle for the attention of The Almighty – the One who must Ultimately be obeyed – or else! The Order militated in Malta for a couple of Centuries, saved Malta from the Ottoman Empire and incorporated Malta into its name, also giving the insignia of the Malta Cross. Malta is not and has never been involved in its internal affairs.
Royalty, religion, the nobility and common men have always been involved in tremendous struggles for one of these to assert its ascendency on the others.
For those familiar with history there is a whole catalogue of revolution sparked off by various sectors to gain a march on the other.
The Magna Carta Liberatum (‘the Great Charter of Liberties’) paved the way back in 1215 when the nobility forced the tyrannical King John of England at Runnymede to agree and sign up for what the Americans would today call “A Bill of Rights’, curtailing his powers and conceding more to his nobles.
The British Isles were again the scene of development when royalty clashed with religion in the 16th Century when King Henry VIII cast aside The Pope to set up the Church of England following a clash of wills and a “who commands what” struggle leading to the execution of Sir Thomas More on 6th July 1535 after he refused to put his King before his God and maintained his loyalty to the Pope. He was later created a saint, Saint Thomas More.
Jumping a Century further, Britain was again the stage of a similar struggle when the rank-and-file Roundheads clashed with King Charles I and lopped off his head on 30th January 1649, establishing for a short while what must be deemed as the first-ever Republic before a later counter-revolution overthrew the Puritanical Roundheads and restored royalty as Head of State.
A Century-and-a-half later the scene changed to France with a bloody revolution that saw a rank-and-file upsurge between 1789 and 1799 with wholesale executions of French royalty and French nobility as the commoners seized power and established the first French Republic.
A further 120 years passed and this time the stage changed to Russia and 17th November 1917, again a bloody revolution to eclipse all revolutions as most of the Romanoff royal family was executed, many other nobles and all religious worship prohibited. This time, the people had revolted against all rivals to gain the ascendancy.
Now, back to the struggle in hand in which Malta is indirectly embroiled. The Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem was officially constituted by Pope Paschal II in 1113 as a result of a Papal decree that can only be countered by a Pope himself, known as a Papal Bull. Effectively, this means the Pope is in charge and the Order must respond to him.
The initial aim was that of a European nobility (basic qualification to have noble blood and only eligible to join strictly by invitation), forming an association to assist the European Crusade against Islam and provide medical facilities for the wounded. When the Crusade ended, the Knights remained Hospitaliers but assumed a more haughty and warlike footing, enjoying substantial powers and much respect, a virtual government with a Head of State (the Grandmaster), a Cabinet of trusted Knights handling finance, security etc and Knights willing to lay down their lives on the line – virtually, a state within a state.
The Order retreated from Jerusalem and took up sojourn in Rhodes to be expelled by the Ottoman Empire and forced to relocate to Malta in 1530, generously made available to them by King Charles V of Spain in exchange for the payment of a fabled Maltese Falcon annually.
At this juncture, the Order began to stretch above itself and things started to get a little tricky. Some of the Grandmasters began to assume the Order had authority equalling that of the Pope or otherwise that it was entirely independent of the Pope who should not interfere in its affairs.
A number of portraits of Grandmasters at the time show them as being extremely regal but more remarkably, somewhere in the portrait would be a depiction of the Papal Mitre, underlining their ambitions for power.
Eventually the Knights were expelled from Malta by Napoleon who had an everlasting hate of them because of their noble blood (strains of the French Revolution still strong) and although the Order fragmented, it remained strong and still dominated by the nobility. In time its war-mongering dissipated and later the St John Ambulance Brigade emerged with the use of the Maltese Cross as its emblem and later transformed into a charitable organisation as well as helping to build clinics and hospitals.
Now, jump forward into 2017. The Order is stateless, holds no territory but has its hierarchy and infrequently mints its own coins and postage stamps. It has its headquarters in Rome and has been allocated premises in Fort St Elmo in Malta.
The current ‘state of war’ erupted towards the end of last year when the Order’s Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, was forced out under protest. He was instructed to resign by the current Grandmaster Fra’ Matthew Festing (a former British Guards Officer). He initially refused to go, but was reminded of his oath of obedience – so he went. His offence apparently had been to sanction the supply of condoms to combat the spread of Aids as part of the Order’s extensive charitable operations. The use of condoms, even to save lives, is contrary to Catholic doctrine.
At this point, the current liberal Pope Francis intervened and established an enquiry into the matter. Pressure was obviously exerted on Grandmaster Matthew Festing who rather than defying the Pope bowed to the Papal Bull’s decree of allegiance and resigned last week.
Events are now in a current state of turmoil. Who rules the roost? The Order is belligerent in what it sees as ‘Papal interference’ and the Pope is exerting his authority as Head Boy.
The use or non-use of condoms remains in the balance and Malta watches from the sidelines. Is this a World War by two of the smallest ‘states’ in the world? The Order is represented by what is left of the European Roman Catholic nobility, the Pope represents the Roman Catholic Church which is worldwide.
Yes, the world is at war, albeit, the Roman Catholic World and the name of Malta is in the middle of it all – without actually being involved in any way!