ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Raymond Burke, spiritual patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, finds the current crisis with the Knights "profoundly saddening." An internal document obtained by Church Militant last week reports on the private, frank, two-hour discussion that took place in March between the prelate and Josef Freiherr von Beverfoerde, a knight of Malta.
"I find it profoundly saddening that the grave scandal of the distribution of contraceptives and the advancing secularization of the Order which this immoral action represents are now minimized and, effectively, forgotten," the former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura said, referring to the reinstatement of Grand Chancellor Albrecht von Boeselager, suspended in December after being found complicit in a condom distribution scheme.
Burke confirms that von Boeselager openly admitted to knowing about Malteser's condom distribution and even approving it. "We have to give contraceptives to these poor women, or they will die," he had told Burke on two occasions at the Magistral Palace.
After an internal investigation revealed that von Boeselager had been complicit for years in Malteser's condom distribution scheme in Kenya, Myanmar and South Sudan, among other places, Grand Master Fra' Matthew Festing ordered that he resign — an order von Boeselager repeatedly refused to obey, leaving Festing with no choice but to suspend him on December 6, 2016.
"I never claimed to have a mandate from Pope Francis to demand the resignation of the Grand Chancellor," Burke clarified, "and, therefore, I, in my capacity as Cardinal Patronus, never asked him to resign, nor did I do so, claiming that I was speaking for the Holy Father."
"Since the Cardinal Patronus has no governance over the Order," Burke continued, "I had no authority whatsoever to tell the Grand Master how to proceed, and I did not do so."
The document also reveals Pope Francis' ostensible reasons for removing Burke as head of the Apostolic Signatura and making him spiritual patron of the Knights of Malta.
"The Holy Father named 'the necessary cleansing of a secular spirit and, specifically, of Freemasonry from the Order of Malta,'" the document notes. "He said that for this work he wanted to appoint a younger cardinal and an American."
Cardinal Burke responded that he had "no experience" dealing with the Freemasons. Even so, the Holy Father insisted that Burke find out who they were among the Knights of Malta "and then ensure that they were expelled from the Order in order to stop the attempts to secularize the Order."
In light of von Boeselager's triumphant return to the Knights of Malta — a man accused of being at the forefront of attempts to secularize the Order — Burke has expressed grave doubts about the continuation of the Knights' mission:
All of the many press conferences, interviews and other interventions through the media on the part of the Order, in the time since the reinstatement of the Grand Chancellor, make no reference to the grave scandal and acknowledge no responsibility on the part of the Grand Chancellor for such scandal. From my view, I fear that the obscuring of this scandalous situation at the root of the recent difficulties in the Order is not a good augury for the renewal of the Order, according to its long, noble, and thoroughly Catholic tradition.
Three months after Pope Francis asked Festing to step down, the Order elected Fra' Giacomo Dalla Torre as its interim Grand Master Saturday, to lead for a period of one year. The German Association of the Order, which has proposed broadranging reforms meant to increase the power of the Grand Chancellor while minimizing that of the Grand Master, is expecting Dalla Torre to cooperate with implementing its reforms — reforms another leaked internal document last week scathingly described as "a secret course to destroy the Order of Malta and replace it with something entirely different, secular and emasculated and no longer fully Catholic."