(Image courtesy of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta website)
Fra’ Matthew Festing, Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, offered his resignation at the pope’s request earlier this week. Today, the Sovereign Council of the Order — the only body with the authority to permit his resignation — has accepted his decision.
Further, the Sovereign Council has annulled Festing’s decrees and reinstated Albrecht von Boeseleager, who was removed last December from his position as Grand Chancellor of the order after an investigation showed that he had overseen the distribution of contraceptives through the Order’s humanitarian agency, Malteser International, and had been involved in other unspecified conduct deemed unfitting of his position.
It is critical to note that the action that was taken last December was prompted by papal mandate; Francis met with Cardinal Burke, the Cardinal Patron of the Order, and told him that he had a “duty to promote the spiritual interests of the order and remove any affiliation with groups or practices that run contrary to the moral law.”
When action was taken, the Vatican moved swiftly to turn the tables on Fra’ Festing and Cardinal Burke, claiming that all they had asked for was “dialogue”. The Vatican then moved swiftly to create a commission to investigate the Order — a sovereign entity with nation status — stacking that commission with friends and allies of Boeselager.
This is a story with significant implications, and I am at this moment preparing a more detailed report on the matter. For now, I reproduce in full the text of the statement just issued on the Order’s website. Take special note of the language of gratitude towards “Pope Francis and the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin for their interest in and care for the Order. The Order appreciates that the Holy Father’s decisions were all carefully taken with regard to and respect for the Order, with a determination to strengthen its sovereignty.”
This statement is exceptionally difficult to reconcile with the observable facts of the case, which I will outline in my forthcoming report.
Fra’ Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein assumes the office of Lieutenant ad interim, Albrecht Boeselager resumes his office as Grand Chancellor
The Sovereign Council, the government of the Sovereign Order of Malta, met this afternoon in the Magistral Palace in Rome. On the agenda was the resignation from Office of Grand Master presented by Fra’ Matthew Festing, in accordance with article 16 of the Constitution of the Order of Malta. The Sovereign Council accepted his resignation from office. Conforming to the Constitution, the Pope has been notified of the resignation of Fra’ Matthew Festing, which will be communicated to the 106 Heads of State with whom the Order has diplomatic relations. In accordance with Article 17 of the Constitution, the Grand Commander, Fra’ Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein, has assumed the office of Lieutenant ad interim and will remain the Order of Malta’s head until the election of the successor of the Grand Master. The Sovereign Council thanked Fra’ Matthew Festing for his great commitment during his nine years in office.
Subsequently, the Sovereign Council presided over by the Lieutenant ad interim annulled the decrees establishing the disciplinary procedures against Albrecht Boeselager and the suspension of his membership in the Order. Albrecht Boeselager resumes his office as Grand Chancellor immediately.
In a letter sent yesterday, 27 January 2017, to Fra’ Ludwig Hoffman von Rumerstein and the members of the Sovereign Council, Pope Francis reaffirmed the special relationship between the Sovereign Order of Malta and the Apostolic See. The Pope affirmed that the Lieutenant ad interim assumes responsibility over the Order’s government, in particular regarding relationships with other States. Pope Francis noted precisely that his Special Delegate will be operating on “the spiritual renewal of the Order, specifically of its professed members.” The Sovereign Order of Malta ensures its full collaboration with the Special Delegate whom the Holy Father intends to appoint.
The Sovereign Order of Malta is most grateful to Pope Francis and the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin for their interest in and care for the Order. The Order appreciates that the Holy Father’s decisions were all carefully taken with regard to and respect for the Order, with a determination to strengthen its sovereignty.
The Lieutenant ad interim together with the Sovereign Council will soon convoke the Council Complete of State for the election of the successor of the Grand Master, according to Art. 23 of the Constitution.