Knights Templar demand apology from Pope after Vatican admits Order was innocent of heresy
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Templars absolved by Pope
16 October 2008
A little while ago, we reported in The Times that the Templars were
seeking an apology from Rome for the execution of their leader,
Jacques de Molay, and the disbanding of the famously-wealthy order.
They were quietly hopeful of this apology coming by 13 October this
year, this being the 700th anniversary of the start of the persecution
which culminated in the torture and burning at the stake of the Grand
Master. The article was widely followed. The date has come and gone
and there is no apology. But as we report today, what there is, is the
publication of an extraordinary document that more or less proves de
Molay and his fellow knights were innocent. And further, by publishing
this parchment at the end of the month in a limited edition costing
nearly £4,000, the Vatican is going to make a tidy sum out of the
Templars. Nevertheless, it does look as though the Templars are next
week going to get the absolution they have been seeking for so long.
And I guess that this is what this was all about in the first place.
The Church wanted the Templars' fabulous wealth. The Templars weren't
going to give it up, nor their secrets. Hertford-based Templar twin
Ben Acheson, who with his brother Tim has been quietly leading the
crusade for justice, went all mysterious when I questioned him about
the current wealth and membership of the order. All he would say is
that there are many members, all over the world. And that the Church
never got the money, nor the secrets. So now the Church is getting its
own back in a small but neat way, by cashing in, literally, on its own
admission of guilt.
The Chinon Parchment, pictured here, contains the absolution Pope
Clement V granted to Jacques de Molay.
Conservative Catholic blogger Chris Gillibrand has done an analysis
for me of the parchment.
In 1305, as the least objectionable candidate to the different parties
involved, Pope Clement V became Pope. The Papal throne was still
overshadowed by predecessor, Pope Boniface XIII who King Philip IV of
France was threatening with trial for heresy, sodomy and the murder of
Pope St Celestine V. At the time of his alleged murder, the latter
was living in the Vatican as a hermit and despite his sanctity but
because of his chaotic management style had abdicated.
Life at the top of the Catholic Church, while never for the faint
hearted, was in those days dangerous and confusing.
Pope Clement was immediately seen as a "political prisoner" of the
King of France, taking up residence in his country, not in itself
unreasonable, as France is known as "the eldest daughter of the
Church". He was, however, the first of the Popes resident in France,
in what later came to be known as the Babylonian Captivity of the
Church. His reign brought about the end to the Papal claims that
Royal authority was mediated from God, through the Pope. Kings
finally claimed uncontested that their power derived directly from
God. Clement took his name on the historical precedent of a previous
Pope Clement who had worked so closely with St Louis, King of France,
a recognition of his hopes, rather than the grim political reality.
As in many Church scandals, real or imaginary, the accusations had
their source in a group of Knights expelled from the Order. The
Inquisition having been founded originally to suppress heresy in
France was on hand in the form of the Dominican, William of Paris who
was also the King's confessor. Like some bureaucrat having a vested
interest in new legislation, William had a vested interest in finding
heresy and not upsetting the King. Philip himself already had form
in the use of unproven accusations against Pope Boniface.
But having initially protested to the King that he found the various
allegations against the Templars impossible to believe, the Pope
proceeded against them with vigour well beyond France, convening the
Council of Vienne in 1312 with a view to formal condemnation. On the
2nd May of that year in Ad providam, he writes the following,
describing well his change of mind on the subject of the Templars and
the allegations themselves:
"Indeed a little while ago, about the time of our election as Supreme
Pontiff before we came to Lyons for our coronation, and afterwards,
both there and elsewhere, we received secret intimations against the
master, preceptors and other brothers of the order of Knights Templar
of Jerusalem and also against the order itself. These men had been
posted in lands overseas for the defence of the patrimony of our Lord
Jesus Christ, and as special warriors of the catholic faith and
outstanding defenders of the holy Land seemed to carry the chief
burden of the said holy Land. For this reason the holy Roman church
honoured these brothers and the order with her special support, armed
them with the sign of the cross against Christ's enemies, paid them
the highest tributes of her respect, and strengthened them with
various exemptions and privileges; and they experienced in many and
various ways her help and that of all faithful Christians with
repeated gifts of property. Therefore it was against the lord Jesus
Christ himself that they fell into the sin of impious apostasy, the
abominable vice of idolatry, the deadly crime of the Sodomites, and
various heresies. Yet it was not to be expected nor seemed credible
that men so devout, who were outstanding often to the shedding of
their blood for Christ and were seen repeatedly to expose their
persons to the danger of death, who even more frequently gave great
signs of their devotion both in divine worship and in fasting and
other observances, should be so unmindful of their salvation as to
commit such crimes. The order, moreover, had a good and holy
beginning; it won the approval of the apostolic see. The rule, which
is holy, reasonable and just, had the deserved sanction of this see.
For all these reasons we were unwilling to lend our ears to
insinuation and accusation against the Templars; we had been taught by
our Lord's example and the words of canonical scripture.
"Then came the intervention of our dear son in Christ, Philip, the
illustrious king of France. The same crimes had been reported to him.
He was not moved by greed. He had no intention of claiming or
appropriating for himself anything from the Templars' property;
rather, in his own kingdom he abandoned such claim and thereafter
released entirely his hold on their goods. He was on fire with zeal
for the orthodox faith, following in the well marked footsteps of his
ancestors. He obtained as much information as he lawfully could. Then,
in order to give us greater light on the subject, he sent us much
valuable information through his envoys and letters. The scandal
against the Templars themselves and their order in reference to the
crimes already mentioned increased. There was even one of the knights,
a man of noble blood and of no small reputation in the order, who
testified secretly under oath in our presence, that at his reception
the knight who received him suggested that he deny Christ, which he
did, in the presence of certain other knights of the Temple, he
furthermore spat on the cross held out to him by this knight who
received him. He also said that he had seen the grand master, who is
still alive, receive a certain knight in a chapter of the order held
overseas. The reception took place in the same way, namely with the
denial of Christ and the spitting on the cross, with quite two hundred
brothers of the order being present. The witness also affirmed that he
heard it said that this was the customary manner of receiving new
members: at the suggestion of the person receiving the profession or
his delegate, the person making profession denied Jesus Christ, and in
abuse of Christ crucified spat upon the cross held out to him, and the
two committed other unlawful acts contrary to christian morality, as
the witness himself then confessed in our presence."
The Chinon Parchment dates from 1308. One can only guess how genuine
the change of mind was. Previous to the Chinon parchment, Pope
Clement had ordered the arrest and confiscation of all their property
in November 1307 with the bull Pastoralis praeeminentia. This was to
be preparatory to the trial. To the medieval mind, the credibility of
the allegations were enormously assisted by the confessions then
obtained under torture of much of the Templar hierarchy.
Yet, was it all to do with property? The King of France's treasury was
empty, and the King of England pounced early on the property of the
Knights, following France in arresting their leaders. The Pope writes
to him warning him not to touch the property. The property was all
transferred to the Knights of Malta after the condemnation, not least
to keep it out of the hands of greedy monarchs and their retainers. A
prefiguration of the transfers of ecclesiastical lands at the time of
Yet another case in history, when one could just imagine the Times
headlines if the paper had been published in those days. One wonders
would The Times have got to the truth of the matter on the
allegations? The use of torture would have been condemned.
But perhaps in our own day, we have an example, the whole of the
international establishment believed that there were weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq on the best of all possible evidence, but the
claims were not examined in any detail and the war went ahead anyway.
As the Blair government needed the external proof of the Iraq dossier,
King Philip enlisted the support of the University of Paris to get a
condemnation of the Templars. There was no shortage of academics
willing to take the King's shilling.
It begged the question, "Could he put the Templars on trial without
reference to the Pope?" Likewise, the question was asked, "Could we go
to war without the second resolution?" so many centuries later.
(Ruth continues) Orders claiming to be in the Templar tradition
proliferate today, including the rather ominous-sounding Teutonic
order. But Acheson claims to be in the order that has continued from
the original and, interestingly, his organisation uses the full and
correct historic title of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ and
the Temple of Solomon Grand Preceptory.
In our interview, Acheson said: 'The Chinon Parchment will be
officially released on the 25th October - exactly 700 years and 13
days after Guillaume de Nogaret announced the accusations to the
world.' Apparently, a secret letter from the Vatican arrived at the
Hertford Temple early in October. Only the Grand Master and the senior
Chaplains have seen the letter and none of them wishes to release it.
Publicly the Vatican says that the release is in response to the
document being found by Professor Barbara Frale after being mis-filed
- but they admit that in fact she found it way back in 2001. Indeed
the Vatican's latest letter to the Temple acknowledges that the
announcement has been timed to coincide with the 700th year - in line
with the Hertford Temple's long-standing request.'
Acheson said: 'The word sorry is conspicous by its absence. But
basically, they have said we were absolved, which is an historic
admission. For me, that makes it all the more astonishing that the
tortures and executions were allowed to continue. For me, that is why
the apology is still the missing piece of the puzzle. Nevertheless, I
would like to think that this could be a turning point. After this, In
hope we will be able to be more outward facing, less introverted.
There are signs of that happening. Others like me are doing what we
can to make things move in that direction.'
Posted by Ruth Gledhill on October 16, 2007 at 02:45 PM in Templars
Ruth Gledhill is The Times Religion Correspondent. In this blog she
offers her views on the issues of the day.
Knights Templar seek papal apology for 700 years of persecution
The Independent, 29 November 2004.
The last crusade of the Templars
The Times, page 13, 29 November 2004.
Hertford, home of the Holy Grail
The Guardian, 4 January 2005
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