At the heart of the crisis in the Order of Malta is the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacient drugs, over a number of years, by Malteser International (MI), the humanitarian arm of the order. Edward Pentin has provided details of MI’s programmes in his comprehensive article on the subject. An investigation by the Lepanto Institute provides further information about MI’s work promoting condoms and abortifacient drugs worldwide. Amongst their findings the following facts stand out:
- MI distributed 52,190 condoms in Burma (Myanmar) in 2005 and 59,675 in 2006
- A World Health Organisation report from 2006, entitled Reproductive Health Stakeholder Analysis in Myanmar 2006 includes “family planning” among MI’s “areas of expertise”, “contraception” amongst its “activities” and “birth spacing” amongst its “future plans”. The report also reveals that MI provided oral contraceptives to 2,500 women in one Burmese township.
- In 2007 MI received a four-year grant of $1.7 million from the Three Disease Fund, for whom they distributed over 300,000 condoms in Burma.
- In 2012 MI entered a partnership with Save the Children to carry out a joint project, for which they received $2.1 million from the Global Fund, to distribute yet more condoms in Burma during the period from 2013-2016.
Malteser International was headed throughout this period by Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager. An internal investigation by the Order of Malta found that von Boeselager was ultimately responsible for the programmes that involved the distribution of condoms and abortifacient drugs. His role at MI was one of the major factors that resulted in his dismissal from the role of Grand Chancellor by the Grand Master, Fra Matthew Festing, on 6 December 2016, after he twice refused to resign. Von Boeselager appealed to the Vatican. A commission was appointed to investigate his dismissal. Edward Pentin has provided extensive, and disturbing information, about the make-up of this commission, which seems to have consisted largely of von Boeselager’s friends and associates. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which is a sovereign entity, refused to accept the legitimacy of this interference into their internal affairs.
On 24 January 2017 Fra Matthew Festing was asked to resign by Pope Francis and acceded to this request. The following day Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, stated that Pope Francis was declaring null and void all Fra Festing’s acts since 6 December, thus nullifying the dismissal of von Boeselager. Fra Festing’s resignation was accepted by the Sovereign Council of the Order of Malta on 28 January and it was announced that von Boeselager was restored to his position as Grand Chancellor of the order.
In short, Pope Francis has restored to office a man ultimately responsible for the distribution of condoms and abortifacient drugs, while removing from the office the man who tried to ensure that Malteser International remained faithful to Catholic teaching.
In the light of this, and of his decision not to confirm that he accepts Catholic teaching on the existence of intrinsically evil acts, it is reasonable to review other concerns regarding Pope Francis’s position on the morality of using contraceptive methods. The list below draws readers’ attention to important incidents of which we are aware; it is not intended to be exhaustive.
5 March 2014 – Pope Francis is interviewed by Corriere della Sera. He is asked “At half a century from Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, can the Church take up again the theme of birth control? Cardinal Martini, your confrere, thought that the moment had come.” In his reply Pope Francis stresses that “Paul VI himself, at the end, recommended to confessors much mercy, and attention to concrete situations”. The pope also stated, “The question is not that of changing the doctrine but of going deeper and making pastoral (ministry) take into account the situations and that which it is possible for people to do. Also of this we will speak in the path of the synod.” The full implications of these words will become clearer during the two-year synodal process.
13 October 2014 – The heterodox relatio post disceptationem of the Extraordinary Synod is published, after having received the personal approval of Pope Francis. This document adopts an ambiguous approach towards contraception, and an approach to conscience and the natural law of a kind that will inevitably undermine the Church’s moral teachings. The alternation between orthodox restatements of Catholic doctrine and ambiguous and erroneous statements will be followed in all succeeding synodal documents.
19 October 2014 – The final report of the Extraordinary Synod makes the approach of the above relatio its own. The treatment of contraception and the natural law are examined in more detail in Voice of the Family’s analysis of the document.
16 January 2015 – Pope Francis makes reference to Humanae Vitae in an address to families in the Philippines, once more laying emphasis not on the central doctrine of the encyclical but on his contention that Paul VI “was very merciful towards particular cases, and he asked confessors to be very merciful and understanding in dealing with particular cases. But he also had a broader vision: he looked at the peoples of the earth and he saw this threat of families being destroyed for lack of children.” The implication of this passage, especially in light of the comments of 19 January below, is that contraception might be tolerated in particular cases, and that the Church’s teaching is a “broader vision” or ideal. This would reflect the “gradualism” adopted in the synod documents and in Amoris Laetitia.
19 January 2015 – Pope Francis, during a press conference on his return flight from Manila, tells journalists that the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, was not about “personal problems, for which he then told confessors to be merciful and understand the situation and forgive, to be understanding and merciful” but rather about “the universal Neo-Malthusianism that was in progress”. Thus he frames Humanae Vitae not as being principally about a universally binding norm but rather as a political response to an ideological movement. During the same press conference he criticises a mother who had eight children by Caeserean section and accuses her of being guilty of tempting God. He goes on to say that Catholics should practice “responsible parenthood” and shouldn’t “breed like rabbits”.
17 June 2015 – Pope Francis appoints climate scientist Hans Schellnhuber to the Pontifical Academy of Science. Schellnhuber believes that there is a “population problem” and has previously stated that the “carrying capacity of the planet” is “below 1 billion people”. Schellhuber’s positions have been analysed in more detail by Voice of the Family in this article.