Response to material placed on Wikipedia by Robert Kobylinski and others

The Abbey-Principality of San Luigi wishes to respond to inaccurate and defamatory material placed on Wikipedia, chiefly by one Robert Kobylinski of Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Mr Kobylinski describes himself as an “independent Internet professional” and has elsewhere involved himself in controversies concerning clergy and churches that profess the Catholic faith while not being in full communion with the Holy See.

We note that Mr Kobylinski has contributed to a number of articles on Wikipedia about Old Catholic clergy. He is the principal author of the article on Archbishop Joseph-René Vilatte (Prince-Abbot Joseph III of San Luigi), which was at one point the longest biography on Wikipedia. The articles and edits that he makes are designed to present a negative picture of their subjects, both by the wording chosen, and by the choice of the facts that are included and the context in which they are placed. We do not know whether Mr Kobylinski bears a grudge against Old Catholics, but his published output certainly gives that impression.

The reader will doubtless be aware that, far from adhering to its stated policy of neutrality, Wikipedia has become a means by which organizations and individuals can be attacked, and that Wikipedia is structured in such a way that defamatory content and its authors are all too often protected by its owners and policies. We have previously submitted a complaint to Wikipedia, but have received only indifference in reply. We are left to conclude that Wikipedia does not care that it has become a forum whereby individuals with axes to grind can find an easily accessible and pliant repository in which to vent their grievances.

We are asked whether, if we object to what is said and if we have evidence to counter it, as we do, we should not simply edit the article to amend or remove the material complained of. We do not accept that this is the right course of action. Firstly, we have no faith in Wikipedia’s editorial policy, and believe it to be strongly biased in favour of interests that are inimical to our own. Secondly, we would doubtless be accused of having a conflict of interest were we to edit an article on a subject that we are ourselves involved with.

Let us firstly address the title of the article. Mr Kobylinski created the article in January 2014 with the title “Vilatte Orders”. However, this is inaccurate. The Orders of the Crown of Thorns and of the Lion and the Black Cross have never been known as “Vilatte Orders” by anyone. Since their unification under the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi in 1899, they have been collectively known as the San Luigi Orders. It is difficult to escape the view, gained from a reading of the Wikipedia article on Archbishop Joseph-René Vilatte in which Mr Kobylinski is the principal author, that the aim is to smear Vilatte using much of the contemporary Anglican and Roman propaganda against him and then to try to smear us by association.

Regarding Vilatte, we would direct the reader to our full biography of him that is available in its entirety online. This addresses and answers the major controversies that attended his life and ministry. The picture that emerges is rather different from that which Wikipedia would present.

But Vilatte did not found either the Order of the Crown of Thorns or the Order of the Lion and the Black Cross, nor was he the first Grand Master of either Order. The Order of the Crown of Thorns in its modern revival owes its dual origin to the first Prince-Abbot of San Luigi and the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Peter III/IV, with Gaston Fercken its first Grand Master. The Order of the Lion and the Black Cross, meanwhile, was the foundation of the first Prince-Abbot of San Luigi.

Vilatte was certainly at various points Grand Master of both Orders and unified the two representations of the Order of the Crown of Thorns upon his succession as Prince-Abbot in 1899. But he stands as one among a whole series of men to have held the Grand Magisterial office, and for all his significance within the Church, was arguably less decisive in the history of the San Luigi Orders than his successors, who secured the Orders’ acceptance among European and Asiatic royalty and obtained the recognition and High Protection of King Peter II of Yugoslavia.

Mr Kobylinski writes that the San Luigi Orders are “condemned by the Holy See”. This is entirely false; no such condemnation has ever been issued by Rome. Certainly, the Holy See has stated in the past that it does not recognize the San Luigi Orders. But according to the Note of Clarification of the Vatican Secretary of State issued on 16 October 2012, the Holy See recognizes only those Orders bestowed by the Pope and the Order of Malta. “All other orders, whether of recent origin or mediaeval foundation, are not recognised by the Holy See.” Whether we are speaking of the Orders of the Garter, the Golden Fleece or the Crown of Thorns, all are equally unrecognized by the Holy See.

The Abbey-Principality welcomes the clarification by the Vatican of the position of the Roman Catholic Church, which is merely a restatement of its long-standing policy. This position does not affect the San Luigi Orders because they are neither Orders of the Holy See nor are they under the protection of the Holy See. They are internationally recognized chivalric orders under the Royal Patronage of a reigning monarch, H.M. the Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara. Throughout their history, the San Luigi Orders have welcomed members who are Roman Catholics, including a number of Roman Catholic clergy. At no point has any Roman Catholic member faced any form of official censure related to his or her membership.

Mr Kobylinski goes on to make a second false statement, that “Italy lists both [of the San Luigi Orders] as illegal decorations”. We have published a paper on the San Luigi Orders and Italian Law that sets out the position accurately, which is that since at least the 1930s, Italian citizens have been at liberty to accept membership in the San Luigi Orders, and so long as their insignia are worn only at private ceremonies and not in public (which position is reserved solely for Orders recognized by the Italian Republic) the holder will remain within the law. Mr Kobylinski provides no reference for any supposed “list of illegal decorations” that includes the San Luigi Orders. We have consulted the Italian Ministry of Defence’s 2009 list of non-national Orders which are “not authorized” – a list which includes, for example, the Order of Ss. Maurice and Lazarus of the House of Savoy – and it does not include the San Luigi Orders.

Mr Kobylinski goes on to state that the San Luigi Orders are not recognized by the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry (ICOC). The San Luigi Orders have consistently warned the public against the activities of such “commissions”. For all that they may claim to be “international” in scope, the ICOC and similar bodies are private initiatives without official recognition and whose opinions rest purely upon the personalities involved. The difficulty often encountered with such “commissions” is that their claims to be able to separate the false from the genuine are riddled with biases, agendas and indeed outright falsehoods. In the case of the ICOC, it was formed in 1964 by Robert Gayre, whose ancestral claims rested upon a fake pedigree, and subsequently led by Terence MacCarthy, whose ancestral claims were similarly false. Indeed, reference to the Wikipedia article on Robert Gayre finds the following regarding the ICOC,

In 1964, Gayre formed the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry (ICOC), an ostensibly academic but non-authoritative panel whose purpose was to review and approve of or reject claimed Orders of Chivalry.[22] The Commission originally included many holders of legitimate titles and honours, but when it became evident that Gayre intended to bolster the legitimacy of the Order of St. Lazarus through the Commission’s published Register, some of the original members resigned in protest. The privately run and privately funded ICOC continued to act as a vehicle for promoting the cause of establishing the Order of St. Lazarus’ legitimacy until Gayre’s death in 1996.[23] In this, he was assisted by his friend, protege, fellow member of the Order of St. Lazarus, and Vice-President of the ICOC, Terence MacCarthy[24] whose pedigree has been shown to be similarly bogus.[25]

We do not consider it unreasonable to regard an appeal to the authority of the ICOC such as that made by Mr Kobylinski as lacking in credibility. Nor do we agree with the ICOC’s opinions on the lack of authority of the Orthodox Patriarchs as fontes honorum. Since the nineteenth-century, a number of the Orthodox Churches have established chivalric Orders and related decorations; among these are the Holy Orthodox Order of Saint George the Great Martyr bestowed by the Patriarch of Moscow. A discussion of the Orthodox Orders by Michael V. Medvedev includes the following instructive principles,

In this aspect, the ecclesiastic Orders of the Eastern Churches (the Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Churches in union with Rome) present a problem. They constitute a firmly established phenomenon and their existence is widely accepted; yet they are neither State nor House Orders and have no appropriate temporal legal background. Some authors are trying to justify their existence by attesting them as pure cult phenomena (rather than public honours), or as exclusively inner awards of the correspondent Churches. Both arguments are wrong; moreover, both are irrelevant. Basically, these Orders either deserve this name, or they do not.

In several cases their existence may be explained as a historically justified extension of the general concept of temporal honours. Thus, the Orthodox Patriarchs under the Ottoman rule were vested with certain temporal responsibility (the ethnarchy), and continued some Imperial practices including nominations of laic dignitaries. It is this traditional worldly leadership which in 1966 was continued by HH Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in creation of an Order of St.Andrew, roughly equating the old rank of archons with that of knights. The Order of the Holy Sepulchre of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which predates that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for at least a century, if not much more, was certainly founded as a reflection of the worldly prominent role of the Patriarchate. It is worth mentioning that this institution was recognised in the Imperial Russia as a fully genuine foreign Order, and its insignia were allowed to be worn by correspondent Imperial permissions.

Another curious example is the Order of the Holy Lamb [God’s Lamb] of the Archbishopric of Finland, which is a branch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but also one of the two official State Churches of Finland, which imported at least certain temporal component and resulted in the Order’s effective integration into the national honours system.

The majority of other Orders of the Eastern Patriarchates and independent Metropolies seem to be founded as an imitation of neighbours’ practices, following the principle of the equality of the sister Churches. As to the logic, this is maybe a liberty (the spiritual equality does not presume the identity of the temporal prerogatives belonging for historical reasons to this or that Church), but this explains why the existence of the ecclesiastical Orders en masse is seriously linked with the ecclesiological tradition, and thus may at least tolerated by specialists in the Orders-lore.

We would add that, whatever arguments may be made about origins, the fact that since 2012 the San Luigi Orders have been under the Royal Patronage of H.M. the Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara, a reigning monarch recognized under the constitution of Uganda,  renders such matters entirely moot. Indeed, the current Royal Patronage is a restoration of the position first graciously extended by Omukama Chwa II Kabalega of Bunyoro-Kitara (then an absolute monarch) to our organization in 1885.

We do not consider it to be of great importance that certain individuals, such as the occultist René Guénon, may have expressed scepticism or disbelief regarding the early years of San Luigi. His quoted statement that Vilatte “invented the ‘Order of the Crown of Thorns” cannot, however, be taken seriously, since the first Grand Master of the OCT under the Syrian Patriarch, Gaston Fercken, is certainly known to history and made a number of appointments of senior bishops of the Syrian Patriarchate to the Order that were subsequently recognized by Vilatte and his successors.

Mr Kobylinski goes on to extract aspects of the history of the San Luigi Orders with the liberal use of loaded phrases such as “foundation story”, “apparently” and “the organization claims” which are designed to sow doubt in the mind of the reader. For an independent account of our history, we prefer the encyclopedia of Vincenzo Privatera, which is reproduced in relevant part here and which has no need of such “weasel words.”

We have also commented on the apparent “recantation of San Luigi” of the former Prince-Abbot Louis-François Girardot when in extreme old age. The only evidence produced for this by Mr Kobylinski is a mere statement by Serge Thériault. We do not feel inclined to give Thériault’s statements credence unless they are supported by independent and verifiable sources. A paper by us discusses Thériault’s past false claims regarding San Luigi.

We note that the name of the Order of the Crown of Thorns appears in some fiction published on a Lego fan community website, but we hardly think that the authors are making any actual reference to our Order in doing so.

Mr Kobylinski spends a lot of time discussing the Valensi affair, in which a criminal sold diplomas of various chivalric Orders before being exposed in the press in 1911. Among the diplomas which were sold by Valensi were those of the Order of the Lion and the Black Cross. That sale, however, was completely unsanctioned by the San Luigi Orders and indeed Vilatte’s response to the publication of one of these diplomas in a newspaper makes this clear. It should be added that after making a number of appointments to the OLBC, Vilatte decided to suppress it around 1910 and concentrate wholly upon the Order of the Crown of Thorns. The OLBC was revived by his eventual successor, Prince-Abbot Edmond I in 1929.

Vilatte responded to Le Catholique Français article, based on Le Matin‘s article, about the diploma by stating that the story discredited him by incorrectly identifying him as the signatory. He declared that he had nothing to do with the published diploma, with Valensi, or with the Order of the Lion and the Black Cross and that his authentic OCT had nothing in common with the diploma from the Principality of San Luigi. “I do not bear the title of Marie Timothée, much less that of Prince, Grand Master of the Order of the Lion and the Black Cross”, asserted Vilatte. He wrote that he never signed any document as Marie Timothée or Mar Timothée and made clear that he was given the religious name of Mar Timothéus I and not Marie Timothée.[22](p105) Vilatte was correct on two points. Neither La Croix nor Le Matin mentioned the name “Vilatte” or “Timothéus”; the diploma, which was printed in both La Croix and Le Matin, also did not mention the name “Vilatte” or “Timothéus”.[21][23] Le Catholique Français asked Vilatte about the identity of the Mar Timothée, diploma signatory, but he did not respond.[22](p106)

Kobylinski presents no evidence whatsoever that contradicts Vilatte’s account of the matter, but nevertheless his inclusion of a great deal of incidental and unrelated material about Valensi’s criminal activity seems to be an attempt to associate the San Luigi Orders wholly falsely with illegality and even organized crime. The fact that fraudsters – and not only at that time, but subsequently – have issued false and forged diplomas of the San Luigi Orders has no more relevance than that those persons should have issued the false and forged diplomas of any other Order. It is not a matter for which the San Luigi Orders bear the slightest responsibility. Our registers record who is and who is not a member of our Orders, and then as now we are not slow to counter any misrepresentation of our rights as it may come to our attention. Therefore the Valensi affair is mere gossip serving no purpose except perhaps to show that the distinctions of our Orders were esteemed highly enough for individuals to consider it worthwhile to traffic in forgeries of them.

Finally, Mr Kobylinski returns to his opening false statement that the San Luigi Orders are “condemned by the Catholic Church”. As stated above, the San Luigi Orders are not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, but in that matter they are joined by every other Order that is not under Papal jurisdiction save the Order of Malta. What Mr Kobylinski then refers to is not any official statement of the Holy See, but rather an article by the art dealer Guy Stair Sainty, who has become known for the expression of polemical opinions on chivalric matters. As of the time of writing, this article has been removed from the Internet.

In fact, examination of the article shows that the word “condemnation” is in fact the interpretation of Mr Sainty rather than the quoted words of the Holy See, which states instead that the San Luigi Orders, and many others, “in no way are approved of or recognized by the Holy See” (our emphasis). These are distinctions which reflect not merely polemical intent on the part both of Mr Sainty and Mr Kobylinski, but that are designed to promote an entirely false antagonism between Rome and San Luigi that does not in any way reflect the reality of the situation, which has overwhelmingly been one of mutual respect and friendly relations for many decades.