ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis is continuing with his investigation into the internal affairs of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, in spite of the Grand Master's reminder that he has no authority or jurisdiction to do so.
At a private meeting held Thursday in Munich, Albert von Boeselager, the deposed Grand Chancellor of the Knights of Malta, reportedly said, "I'm demoralized by what's happened, but I want to fight for justice."
Von Boeselager was removed from his position in a December 6 meeting with Cdl. Raymond Burke, patron of the order, who had discovered von Boeselager had been involved in distributing condoms through Malteser International, the group's charitable arm. The investigation had been spearheaded by Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute, who presented his findings to Burke in early November.
Von Boeselager has since loudly complained that the termination violated the Knights' constitution, and Pope Francis established a commission December 22 to look into the matter.
In an unprecedented rebuke, the Grand Master, Fra' Matthew Festing, sent a letter to the Holy Father on Christmas Eve reminding him he has no jurisdiction over the order's internal affairs. An official statement from the order clarified:
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.
At the Thursday meeting in Munich, one source present reportedly said, "Some Presidents and Grand Priors unconditionally support the Grand Master, and others the Grand Chancellor. We hope the commission will vigorously address the investigation and will report properly and objectively to the Holy Father, as the current situation is very damaging to our Order's image."
Some believe the Holy Father's actions stem from latent hostility towards Cdl. Burke, who has set off a firestorm of controversy for publicizing questions, or dubia, requesting that the Pope answer questions of doctrine in Amoris Laetitia — the pope's apostolic exhortation that has led to divergent and heterodox interpretations of Church teaching.
Raymond de Souza, KM, spoke with Church Militant earlier, saying:
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.
According to Religión Digital, the source of complaints leading to the establishment of Pope Francis' commission are three-fold:
Festing's warning in a December 12 letter that members who persisted in their protests of the Grand Chancellor's termination would face discipline;
the election of John Critien as Acting Grand Chancellor on December 14, which some claim violated the Order's constitution.
It was clear from the meeting that supporters of von Boeselager expect the investigation to continue, in spite of the Grand Master's letter to the Pope.
The Pope only has spiritual jurisdiction over the order, with the authority to appoint a patron to spiritually advise the order. He exercised this right when he named Cdl. Burke to be patronal chaplain of the order.
The Solemn Privilege of 1113, a papal bull issued by Pope Paschal II, established the order's sovereignty, exempting its administrative affairs from Church control. The bull guarantees the order's right to elect its leaders without outside interference — not even from the Supreme Pontiff.