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Pope Francis leads consistory for Mideast and canonizations

Vatican defends Order of Malta investigation

Growing dispute over resignation of Order’s Chancellor

The Vatican has said its investigation into the resignation of the Knights of Malta’s former grand chancellor is ‘completely legitimate’ after the order said it would not co-operate with the inquiry.

According to one of the legal notes prepared for the commission carrying out the investiagion, the pope’s right to be informed of the circumstances surrounding the removal of Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager relates’to the authority he exercises directly and immediately over all baptised faithful, whether lay or clerical’.

“This is not about interfering in the internal affairs of the order because the purpose of the commission, as is evident, is to give an account to the Holy Father on the procedures (used to remove Boeselager) and nothing else,” said the note,

The Grand Magistry of the order had released a statement on January 10 stating its refusal to cooperate with the Vatican commission, citing what it termed the ‘legal irrelevance’ of the commission.

The grand master of the order, Fra’ Matthew Festing, also insisted that the former chancellor’s removal was an act of internal governance that falls exclusively within the order’s power.

Meeting with members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the order on January 10, Fra Festing told said  that Boeselager’s removal will not affect the order’s charitable operations.

“Our decentralized nature ensures that our activities assisting people in difficulty and need, continues unaffected in the 120 countries where the Order of Malta operates,” Fra’ Matthew said.

According to its website, the order has bilateral diplomatic relations with 106 countries and the European Union, as well as permanent observer status at the United Nations and international Cooperation Agreements with over 50 states ‘to facilitate its humanitarian activities and allow unrestricted and protected access, especially in crisis regions.’

Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, a German nobleman, was removed due to ‘severe problems’ during his tenure as grand hospitaller of the Order of Malta and ‘his subsequent concealment of these problems from the Grand Magistry;, the order said. Numerous media reports have said the problems specifically regarded the distribution of condoms by aid agencies working with the order’s Malteser International.

Festing, in the presence of US Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the order, requested that Boeselager resign. His refusal to resign resulted in his removal in early December. John Critien was elected grand chancellor ad interim December 14.

Pope Francis established the commission December 22 to gather the facts and ‘completely inform’ the Holy See about the situation and circumstances leading to Boeselager’s removal as well as to foster dialogue and a peaceful resolution, according to a Vatican statement.

The order’s sovereignty is at the heart of its argument against the legality of the commission, which is led by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, former Vatican representative to UN agencies in Geneva.

Other members of the commission are: Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a canon lawyer and former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University; Jacques de Liedekerke, former chancellor of the Order of Malta; Marc Odendall, counselor of the order; and Marwan Sehnaoui, president of the Order of Malta in Lebanon.

The order said its refusal to cooperate with the commission aims to protect its independence ‘against initiatives which claim to be directed at objectively (and, therefore –- quite apart from its intentions -– reveals it to be legally irrelevant) questioning or even limiting said sovereignty.”

However, the commission’s legal note directly addresses the order’s concern, stating that the group was established by Pope Francis, who yields authority over the laity and clergy ‘as well as immediate authority over religious orders’.

“This does not in any way put into question the sovereignty of the order exercised by the sovereign Grand Master,” the note stated.

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