Pope Approves Order Barring Former Knights of Malta Grand Master From His Own Order’s Elections in Rome

Over the past few months, we’ve covered the saga of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta rather extensively. If you’re unfamiliar with the main events surrounding this thousand-year-old chivalric Catholic order toppled by Pope Francis, this summary is probably the best place to start.

To recap: since that summary was written, several additional events of major significance have unfolded. In February, it was revealed that Cardinal Raymond Burke — who was appointed as Cardinal Patron of the Order in 2014 — found himself in the crosshairs of the same coup that ousted Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing and reinstated Albrecht von Boeselager. Boeselager was removed from the Knights of Malta at Festing’s command after an internal investigation reportedly determined that he was involved with the distribution of contraceptives through the Order’s international relief agency, Malteser International.

In an interview with an Austrian daily on February 15, acting Grand Master Ludwig Hoffman von Rumerstein blamed Cardinal Burke for Boeselager’s ouster — a charge which Cardinal Burke later referred to as “a calumny”.

It was also in February that we got the first official word that Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the pope’s newly-appointed delegate to the Order, would be taking over the duties of Cardinal Burke, supplanting (but not replacing) him as Cardinal Patron. It was the reinstated Grand Chancellor himself, Abrecht von Boeselager, who told the press that Becciu “has the full confidence of the Pope and is his spokesman … That means that Cardinal Burke as Cardinal Patron of the Order is now de facto suspended.” This suspension was confirmed by Burke himself earlier this month, when in an interview with Infovaticana he stated:

For the moment, I am completely removed from any involvement with the Order of Malta. While I retain the title of the Cardinal Patron, the Pope has made clear that the only person who can treat questions of the Order of Malta in the name of the Holy Father is Archbishop Becciu.

In March, an anonymous but allegedly highly-placed source within the Order of Malta sent a letter to Vaticanista Sandro Magister, detailing more of the possible financial motivations that may have been associated with the sudden and tumultuous change in power within the Order. Two days later, word it was revealed that the Austrian Catholic website Kath.net had received a cease-and-desist order in response to their reporting on the financial dealings of Albrecht von Boeselager as Grand Chancellor of the order. Although nothing else was made public, rumors of legal proceedings initiated against other members of the Catholic press by aggrieved members of the Order who appear not to want this story covered have also been circulating.

Also in March, our own Hilary White published a moving profile of the life of service of Fra’ Matthew Festing, the former Grand Master of the Knights of Malta. Around the same time, Festing granted an interview to Dan Hitchens of the Catholic Herald, in which he revealed part of a conversation he had with Pope Francis after he was asked by the pontiff to resign his position with the Order:

“I said, ‘Can I ask you a hypothetical question?’ He said yes. And I said, ‘Hypothetically, what would happen if I was re-elected?’ He thought for a moment and said, well, that would be all right.”

As the Herald reported at the time:

The Council Complete of State, comprising about 60 members, meets to elect a new grand master on April 29. It is not inconceivable that Festing could be re-appointed. He says he’s happy to do whatever the order asks of him: “If they want me, they want me, and if they don’t, they don’t.” He adds: “I have no intention of running a campaign. However, if they re-elect me, I would have to consider agreeing to it.”

But that was then. It would appear that certain factions within the Order — possibly the very same ones seeking to silence Catholic journalists poking around where they aren’t wanted — have managed yet another coup against Festing. From Edward Pentin at the National Catholic Register:

In a surprising move, Pope Francis’ special delegate to the Order of Malta has instructed Fra’ Matthew Festing, the Order’s former Grand Master, not to travel to Rome for the election of his successor.

In a letter dated April 15 (see below), Archbishop Angelo Becciu said that many of the Order had “expressed their wish” that Fra’ Festing not travel to Rome for the election on April 29 as they felt his presence would “reopen wounds” and prevent a return to harmony following the dispute earlier this year regarding the dismissal and later reinstatement of Albrecht von Boeselager as Grand Chancellor.

The archbishop said he had “shared the decision with the Holy Father” and that he should therefore forego his trip to Rome “as an act of obedience.”

Sandro Magister writes that the letter is “glaring proof of the exercise of” the “full powers” granted to Archbishop Becciu as Special Delegate and “exclusive spokesman” for the pope to the Order.

Festing, for his part, has yet to say a public word on the matter. As Hilary White’s profile of the man suggests, he is not now, nor has he ever been, interested in power. But he is a man dedicated to the service of the poor and the sick — as well as the teachings of the Church. If the former attribute seems as though it should have been certain to put him on the pope’s list of favored sons, the latter, sadly, may be the very thing that has seen him stricken from it.

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