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The Order of the Knights of Malta was founded in 1113, and is one of the oldest institutions in Western civilation. After Napoleon expelled the order from Malta in 1798, it made its home in Rome. The order is sovereign, and prints its own coins, stamps and passports. Today it is an international humanitarian organization with approximately 100,000 members worldwide and has diplomatic relations with more than 100 states, and has permanent observer status at the United Nations.
On December 22, Pope Francis created a commission to investigate the ouster of the order's Grand Chancellor, who claims he was asked to resign in a December 6 meeting with Cdl. Raymond Burke, patron of the order, after a condom-distribution scandal involving Malteser International (first uncovered by Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute). In an extraordinary rebuke to the Roman Pontiff, the Grand Master reminded the Holy Father he lacks jurisdiction to intervene. An official statement of the order explained its position.
The Grand Magistry of the Sovereign Order of Malta has learnt of the decision made by the Holy See to appoint a group of five persons to shed light on the replacement of the former Grand Chancellor.
The replacement of the former Grand Chancellor is an act of internal government administration of the sovereign Order of Malta and consequently falls solely within its competence.
The aforementioned appointment is the result of a misunderstanding by the Secretariat of State of the Holy See.
The Grand Master respectfully clarified the situation in a letter to the Supreme Pontiff, laying out the reasons why the suggestions made by the Secretariat of State were unacceptable.
He assured the Holy Father of his filial devotion and asked the Pontiff for the Apostolic Blessing, both for him and for the Sovereign Order of Malta, its 13,500 members and its 100,000 staff and volunteers who continue to provide a permanent and efficient hospitaller presence in more than 120 countries in the world according to the centuries-old charism of the Order of Malta.
Raymond de Souza, a Knight of Malta, spoke with Church Militant about the situation.
CM: What is the Holy Father attempting to do?
Raymond de Souza: First of all, some background information.
The Grand Chancellor of the Order of Malta, the German Mr. Albrecht von Boeselager, was involved in a program that the Order's Malteser International aid group had participated in several years ago, with other aid groups, in Myanmar. They were helping sex slaves, including giving them condoms to protect them from HIV infection.
I have not received any reports about the Chancellor working to stop the sex slavery, but only to provide the condoms and medical services.
Von Boeselager has said as soon as the order's headquarters in Rome learned of the condom distribution, two of the projects were immediately halted. A third continued, he said, because an abrupt end to the project "would have deprived a poor region of Myanmar of all basic medical services." The project eventually ended after the Vatican's doctrine office intervened.
Mr. von Boeselager was asked to resign, but twice he refused to do so.
Then the Order's Grand Magistry decided to remove him from the position of Chancellor. It was an entirely administrative decision, which the Magistry is totally competent and authorized to make.
In response, the Holy Father, who has reportedly approved the use of condoms to prevent transmitting Zika infections, and evidently extending a hand of support to von Boeselager, took it upon himself to appoint a five-member commission to investigate the matter.
"The Grand Master, Fra. Matthew Festing, respectfully clarified the situation in a letter to the Supreme Pontiff, laying out the reasons why the suggestions made by the Secretariat of State were unacceptable. He also pointed out to the Pontiff that the aforementioned appointment was the result of a misunderstanding by the Secretariat of State of the Holy See.
He assured the Holy Father of his filial devotion and asked the Pontiff for the Apostolic Blessing, both for him and for the Sovereign Order of Malta, its 13,500 members and its 100,000 staff and volunteers who continue to provide a permanent and efficient hospitaller presence in more than 120 countries in the world according to the centuries-old charism of the Order of Malta."
CM: Why does the Pope lack jurisdiction or authority?
Raymond de Souza: The appointment of the commission is unacceptable because the Order of Malta is a sovereign entity, like any State, and the Holy Father has no authority to intervene in its internal administrative affairs, just as he may not intervene in the administration matters of Norway, India or the United States.
Our Order received its autonomy by Pope Pascal II in the 11th century, and since then we have been faithful sons of the Church as far as faith, morals and ecclesiastical discipline are concerned. But our internal administration is our affair.
CM: Do you think his intervention here has anything to do with latent hostility towards Cdl. Burke, who is patron of the Order?
Raymond de Souza: I do. Considering the evidently hostile way in which Cdl. Burke has been treated by priests and bishops who support the Holy Father's ambiguous stances, this fake commission may well be just a decoy to involve Cdl. Burke, who is the Patron of the Order, in the scandal, and help discredit him — and, by association, the other cardinals who asked the Holy Father to clarify his ambiguous teaching in "Amoris Laetitia" on marriage and adultery.
CM: What further comments on the situation would you like to add?
Raymond de Souza: I believe that the Holy See ought to direct their concern to improve the pathetically poor doctrinal and moral education of the Catholic people in many countries — to put it charitably — so as to inform and form consciences according to the perennial teachings that have been handed down to us by the Apostles and made more and more explicit by the Magisterium until John Paul II and Benedict XVI; they should likewise stay out of internal administrative decisions of independent bodies like the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta, of which I am proud to be a Knight of Magistral Grace.
Together with other Knights, we offer our Grand Master our total support in his effort to safeguard our sovereignty. The Catholic Church is not a dictatorship, but a family, where the rights given to the faithful are respected.
Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute comments on his investigation of Malteser International here: