The Catholic Thing
The Knights of Malta and the Right to Life Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Thursday, 12 March 2009

I write from the island of Malta, a solid windswept rock in the middle of the Mediterranean, roughly equidistant between Sicily and Tunisia. It has been owned by the Muslims, the British, briefly by the French, and, for a long time, by the Knights of St. John, now known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

I am a Knight of Malta.

The Knights were given Malta for their defense of Christendom when they defeated the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, and their influence is everywhere evident here today. In the middle of the beautiful town of Valetta sits the Co-Cathedral of St. John, which is one of the wonders of the Catholic world. Almost every inch is covered in carved stone reliefs: snarling animals, flowering plants, cherubs, trumpets, angels, and Maltese crosses. One whole room is given over to a huge and magnificent work by Caravaggio, who painted it while imprisoned here by the Knights on a charge of murder.

Not far from the cathedral is a former hospital of the order, which boasts one of the longest halls in Europe, a space once devoted to the care of Knights injured in battle.

The Knights of Malta are among the oldest religious orders in the world, founded to care for and protect pilgrims to the Holy Land preyed upon by marauding Muslims. Through its long and storied history, the Knights have flown on two wings: first, defending the Church, the Faith, and the faithful, which are really all of a piece; and, second, caring for the sick and the poor. The motto of the Knights is "Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum."

Somewhere along the line, the great doctrinal debates subsided, and at least until recent days, the persecution of the faithful died down. And with these changes, the Order of Malta began flying almost exclusively on that second wing. The order now runs hospitals and ambulances, and intervenes in desperate situations. The Maltese cross is a welcome sight to suffering people all over the world.

But in the case of two desperate situations today, the Order of Malta, at least institutionally, is largely absent - situations where there are real and suffering victims - where the Church stands almost completely alone and comes under vicious and sustained attack. These are the battles to save the unborn, and in defense of marriage.

Just recently this absence has been underscored by a move to consider for membership the former mayor of Washington, D.C., Anthony Williams. Mr. Williams was nominated and, as of this writing, is still being considered for the extraordinary honor of papal knighthood, even though he is on record as supporting both legal abortion and homosexual marriage.

Over the past several days there has been a serious kerfuffle among the Knights in Washington, and many have threatened to resign. Calls of protest have gone out to the president of the Order of Malta Federal Association, U.S.A. and to its executive director.

And this is not the first time such a thing has happened. A few years ago, former top Clinton-era operative Terry McAuliffe was nominated as a knight in the Federal Association. McAuliffe is also a longtime supporter of legal abortion and homosexual marriage. After a tsunami of protest from some Knights, he was asked to remove his name from consideration.

When I joined the Knights of Columbus some years ago, there was a moment on investiture night when a senior knight said outright that if anyone being considered was not fully supportive of the teachings of the Catholic Church on abortion, he should leave right then. I don’t remember a similar moment when I joined the Knights of Malta.

Some in the order are working to change things. There is a monthly Defense of the Faith meeting in Northern Virginia, which often hosts pro-life speakers. A group of Knights participate every year in the March for Life. There is an annual pro-life Mass. And a small pot of money is set aside for defense-of-the-faith expenditures.

It is good to recall the prayer the Knights are supposed to say every day. The first entreaty is to keep faithful to the traditions of the order, the second is to defend the Faith, and the third reminds us to care for the sick and the poor. How does it fit in with these entreaties to get deeply and even publicly involved on the wrong side of what successive popes have called the pre-eminent public policy issue of our time? And how does it fit in if the Knights avoid that issue?

It is reported that Mayor Williams will be asked to recant his positions on abortion and homosexual marriage or withdraw his nomination. This is good, but it should have never come to this.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy.

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Comments (16)Add Comment
Faltering Faith
written by William Dennis, March 13, 2009
Well, I suppose we should be hearing soon that John Kerry is nominated for papal knighthood. It is things like this that frustrate and anger the faithful who follow the churches teachings. Is it any wonder why Catholics vote for anti-life candidates with no qualms of conscience. Is this part of the acceptable "seamless garment?" Can money buy papal honors or recognition in religious orders? I agree the events you mentioned stop short of scandal, but at the next battle of Lepanto will we lose?
True Scadal
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 13, 2009
How can Holy Mother Chruch expect Her children to take seriously what She teaches when those who openly rejejct those teachings are honored by inclusion in oders reserved for defernders fo the faith? Loyal KofC or KoM must protest to their leaders and the Vatican, not out lack of charity but precisely because allowing this scandal mocks charity! By the way, Mr. Ruse, when did you join KofC?
Timely Piece
written by Father Benedict, March 13, 2009
Excellent and timely article - we need a new breed of knights, ready for battle!
written by debby, March 13, 2009
The Knights of Malta won the day at Lepanto because the Holy Father called all the Church to fast & pray the Rosary for GOD's will to be done--and they obeyed. No one, no group, no party, wins on their own. Be we hobbits in Shelab's lair, prisoners in concentration camp, moms & dads in the burbs, we are ALL called to holiness & prayer, living in communion w/our Lady. Maybe our Holy Mother Church would not have so many stains on Her Bridal gown if we would all do our very little yet heroic part.
written by debby, March 13, 2009
2nd post-
thank you Austin for your work.
thank you Fr. Schall for yours.
and to Brad, & Kirk & Robert Royal, Hadley, all of you--it's a beautiful, public, daunting task. & to all those who post
you have my prayers & my company. for you all know, we each have our part in supporting & building the Kingdom. More are coming in& yes some are leaving. but the remant in the end will be Spotless, Holy. And i for one want to be right along side of you brave knights.
i am so proud to be Catholic!
written by dancny, March 13, 2009
I am constantly amazed that people who quite posibly should be excommunicated are instead honored. While we should be charitable toward a person and their soul, how charitable is it to allow them to persist in error and publish that error so that others may join them? Where are Thomas More and Thomas a Becket when we need them?
written by Savonarola, March 14, 2009
As Mr. Ruse points out, nomination from within the membership and active consideration of McAuliffe and of Williams should never have even happened. But what should not have happened but did was the investiture in 2003 of the president of once-Catholic Georgetown University which continues its degrading downhill slide.
written by John, March 14, 2009
It is important to make the distinction between the Knights of Malta as the Order nominating an individual to become a member and one of the Knights or Dames sponsoring a candidate to become a member. At this point Mr. Williams was not "honored" by the Order with anything. Mr. Williams would still need to pass review by the Admissions committee and then ultimately approval from Rome before becoming a Knight.
written by Dave, March 15, 2009
Right to life and marriage between man and woman are battles to win not unlike those fought by the Knights centuries ago. Evil is creeping into our very Catholic fabirc. The spread of the evil is supported by a passive instruction and required gentleness with, "we need to accept the way each person feels about the beliefs of the church."
written by Netto, March 15, 2009
You cannot serve the evil culture and GOD. God creator of life
written by adriano, April 04, 2009
Congratulations,you are a real knight,our church needs knights that protect the unborn.
written by Dave, April 13, 2009
Two minor corrections. The Knights were given Malta in 1530, long before the battle of Lepanto. Lepanto occurred only 6 years after they defeated the the Turks in the battle of Malta. They lost so many knights in that battle that they were a small part of the force at Lepanto, commanding 3 galleys.
written by wow gold, June 30, 2009
This is a great article. I’m new to blogging but still learning. Thanks for the great resource.
Nick Matyas
written by Nick Matyas, January 05, 2010
very good posting,i liked it.
thank you for this post.

written by jason taylor, January 08, 2012
The Venetians and Spaniards did provide a LITTLE help you know...
written by paul rimmer, March 14, 2012
I'm a Protestant,but I take great strength from the Catholic defence of the unborn & trad marriage. The Left have sold their soul on these issues, but I say No Surrender!

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