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Vatican Cracks Down on Critics of Pope

Issued: 2018-03-23

by Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D.23 Mar 20180

On Thursday, the Rome-based Sovereign Order of Malta, which reports directly to the Holy See, suspended historian Henry Sire after he was revealed to be the author of the bestselling book The Dictator Pope: The Inside Story of the Francis Papacy, a critical examination of the pontificate of Pope Francis.

Meanwhile the Vatican has hired the international law firm of Baker McKenzie to force a small Spanish website called InfoVaticana.com to close its doors, allegedly for its sometimes critical tone toward aspects of the Francis papacy. The firm recently threatened a lawsuit if Infovaticana isn’t shut down and “its internet domain transferred to the Vatican.”

The Order of Malta announced its decision Wednesday to suspend the British historian Henry Sire, a member of the order, calling his book a “vile attack” on Pope Francis.

“Following the press articles reporting the name of the author of the book ‘The Dictator Pope’ the Grand Magistry of the Order of Malta has taken the decision to suspend Henry Sire, author of the book and member of the Order of Malta. The provisional suspension from membership has immediate effect and an investigation is being launched,” it said in a statement.

In January, 2017, the Vatican took control of the Knights of Malta after ousting its Grand Master Matthew Festing for his “defiance of papal authority.” The pope asked Festing to resign following a dispute over sovereignty with the Vatican, replacing him with papal delegate Archbishop Angelo Becciu as interim leader of the order.

Under the pen name Marcantonio Colonna, Sire published The Dictator Pope electronically in November of 2017, first in Italian and then in English, after spending a four-year residence with the Knights of Malta in Rome from 2013 to 2017, during which time he conducted his research for the book. Only on Monday did Sire acknowledge that he was the author of the book.

In it, Sire portrayed Francis as an authoritarian leader who does not brook opposition or criticism. Contrary to his public persona as a jovial man of the people, Sire wrote that Francis has turned out to be “a papal tyrant the like of whom has not been seen for many centuries” and under his administration, “the Vatican is systematically silencing, eliminating and replacing critics of the Pope’s views.”

“When the publicity cameras are off him, Pope Francis turns into a different figure: arrogant, dismissive of people, prodigal of bad language and notorious for furious outbursts of temper which are known to everyone from the cardinals to the chauffeurs,” he declared.

Unfortunately for the Vatican, the immediate suspension of Sire from the Order of Malta will play as a confirmation of the author’s allegations that under Francis the Holy See deals swiftly and ruthlessly to eliminate those it views as enemies.

Attacks on Infovaticana.org have seemed to follow a similar pattern.

As the Associated Press (AP) reported, many commercial websites use the Vatican name, and yet the only one that has come under fire from the Holy See has been infovaticana, which would seem to confirm statements by the website’s founder, Gabriel Ariza, that the Vatican is deliberately targeting his site because of disagreement with its content. Ariza has called the Vatican’s measures a “political witchhunt.”

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke has denied these allegations, saying that the dispute with Infovaticana “is not a matter of ideology or freedom of expression, but one of officialdom.”

Other sites and outlets that have “Vatican” in their name include Vatican.com, a news portal and travel site; the Vatican Insider, a religion site with its pages published by the Italian daily La Stampa; and Inside the Vatican, a monthly magazine that publishes both print and digital editions.

None of these other sites have been asked to change their names, charged with copyright infringement, or threatened with lawsuits, which makes the case of Infovaticana.com something of an anomaly.

According to AP, some people within the church have been angered by “content opposing abortion, same-sex marriages and adoptions by gays and lesbians,” which, on the other hand, tends to square with official Catholic teaching on these matters.

Spain’s trademark office ruled last year that Infovaticana had infringed copyright by featuring the gold and white colors of the Vatican flag and the crossed keys of St. Peter in its masthead, after which the website removed these symbols.

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