The knights who won’t retreat

Vatican officials have mounted an extraordinary challenge to the ancient Order of Malta. But what is the row really about?
Grand Master Fra' Matthew Festing insists that the order remains loyal to the Pope (CNS).

Source: Catholic Herald, 11 January 2017

By Dan Hitchens

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is one of the more improbable success stories of the 21st Century Church. Founded in 1099 to provide hospital care and military defence in the Holy Land, it has retained much of its medieval tradition and ceremony. But it has also, by gradual reform, become a powerhouse of international aid. More than 100,000 members, medical staff and volunteers are offering practically every form of charitable assistance around the world, from handing out sandwiches to the homeless in Britain, to running AIRS clinics in Africa, to rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.

The order attributes this vast network in large part to its sovereign status. Thanks to its diplomatic links with more than 100 countries, it often has access to places that other agencies cannot reach.

It is a religious order, some of whose knights take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. But the order also values its independent sovereignty, which it has jealously guarded. In the early 1950s, when Cardinal Nicola Canali tried to bring the order more under the sway of the Vatican, the knights successfully resisted what they saw as a power grab. Since then Rome has mostly let the order get on with things – right up until last month.

The crisis was brought about by the dismissal of Albrecht von Boeselager, the order’s Grand Chancellor (number three). Boeselager’s previous job was running the order’s humanitarian arm, Malteser International. A few Malteser projects had been handing out condoms – since 2005, according to the watchdog the Lepanto Institute. The order says that Boeselager had known about this since at least 2013 and had failed to respond properly. Moreover, it alleges, he had concealed the problem from his superiors. Boeselager denies this, saying he acted as soon as he knew about it.

This would have remained an internal matter, except that Pope Francis himself became involved.

To read the full story in the Catholic Herald, click here.



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