A British member of the Order of Malta, the chivalric organisation which dates back to the Crusades, has been suspended after writing a highly critical book about Pope Francis that was condemned as a “vile attack”.
Henry Sire, an Oxford-educated historian and a knight in the ancient order for nearly two decades, has been castigated for his inflammatory book The Dictator Pope, which describes the Argentinian pontiff as “authoritarian and manipulative”.
The book claims to be “the inside story of the most tyrannical and unprincipled papacy of modern times.”
“When the television cameras aren’t rolling, Pope Francis transforms into another person: arrogant, stand-offish with people, vulgar in his language and famous for his violent outbursts of anger that are known to all, from cardinals to car drivers,” the historian wrote.
The book claims that Francis was elected thanks to the help of a “mafia” of progressive cardinals.
In a recent tweet, Mr Sire described the Pope as “the monster occupying the papal throne”.
The row is the latest skirmish in a much wider battle between those who support Pope Francis and conservatives who are bitterly opposed to his populist touch and reform agenda, some of whom have gone as far as to accuse him of heresy.
They have been incensed by his suggestion that divorcees who remarry in civil ceremonies should be allowed to take Holy Communion.
Mr Sire, who has been a knight since 2001, was contracted to write a history of the order and lived from 2013 until 2017 in its palatial headquarters in Rome.
The book was duly published in 2016, but he then wrote a second book, without the knowledge of the knights, on Francis and his controversial papacy.
It was initially published under a pen name, Marcantonio Colonna, an Italian nobleman who fought at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, in which a European naval force inflicted a major defeat on the Ottoman Empire off the coast of Greece.
Mr Sire, a Catholic arch-conservative who has questioned the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, was revealed to be the author of the book earlier this week by his publishers.
After being unmasked, the knights took the decision to suspend him.
In a statement, the order said it “strongly condemns the vile attack against the Pope.”
“The Order of Malta dissociates itself from the positions conveyed and considers the content of the book a grave offence to His Holiness, Pope Francis.”
An internal investigation has been launched and Mr Sire could be expelled from the order, a spokesperson told The Telegraph.