VATICAN CITY — A Spanish group claiming to be the heirs of the Knights Templar have filed a law suit against Pope Benedict XVI, seeking the "rehabilitation" of the once-powerful Catholic religious order that was disbanded 700 years ago.
The Association of the Sovereign Order of the Temple of Christ also demands recognition — though not restitution — of $156 billon in assets that it claims the original Templars lost upon their dissolution.
The Knights Templar, officially known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, were founded in the early 12th century to protect Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. But their growing military and economic power inspired envy, suspicion and accusations of heresy. Pope Clement V, under pressure from King Philip IV of France, disbanded the order in 1312.
The Templars' glorious and tragic history has figured prominently in legend and popular culture, including Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
Last year, the Vatican published a document only recently discovered in its archives showing that Clement had actually absolved the order of heresy before dissolving it for political reasons.
According to statements appearing on the plaintiffs' website, the current law suit was originally submitted to a Madrid court last December, and dismissed two months later. The group says it has appealed the dismissal, and expects a decision in October.
A report by the EFE news agency said the first judge dismissed the case on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction, since events so far in the past are "properly the subject of historians."
By Francis X. Rocca, Religion News Service