Until then, Festing “technically is still Grand Master,” Robbiate said, explaining that the vote is set to take place on Saturday.
He said that given the Order’s constitutional requirement for a Grand Master’s resignation to be accepted, there is “absolutely theoretically” a possibility that Festing’s request will be rejected, however, “it’s improbable.”
Robbiate had no comment on the current Vatican investigation into the Order’s dismissal of their former Grand Chancellor, saying “I honestly can’t say” if Festing’s resignation would in any way affect the Vatican’s inquiry.
A Jan. 25 communique from the Vatican confirmed the news, saying Festing “resigned from the office of Grand Master” during his meeting with the Pope Tuesday.
Pope Francis, it read, accepted Festing's resignation Wednesday, “expressing appreciation and gratitude to Fra’ Festing for his loyalty and devotion to the Successor of Peter, and his willingness to serve humbly the good of the Order and the Church.”
The Vatican also confirmed that until a papal delegate is appointed to oversee governance of the Order, it will be guided in the interim by their Grand Commander, Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein.
Festing's agreement to resign follows a conflict between the Order of Malta and the Holy See over the dismissal of the Knights' former Grand Chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, in December 2016. Among the reported reasons for the dismissal was that under Boeselager’s watch, the Order's charity branch had inadvertently been involved in distributing condoms in Burma to prevent the spread of HIV.
However, a senior official of the Order has said that while the incident was a contributing factor in Boeselager’s resignation, the reasons – while confidential – are much broader.
The Holy See announced Dec. 22, shortly after Boeselager's dismissal, that Pope Francis had formed a group to investigate the matter.
On Jan. 10 the Knights issued a statement defending their decision, calling Boeselager’s dismissal “an internal act of governance,” making the group established by the Holy See to investigate the decision “legally irrelevant” given the Order’s sovereignty.
The Holy See, in turn, reiterated Jan. 17 its confidence in its investigative group and indicated it was awaiting the group's report “in order to adopt, within its area of competence, the most fitting decisions for the good of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and of the Church.”
The Order of Malta is a chivalric order which was founded in 1099, originally to provide protection and medical care to Holy Land pilgrims. It now performs humanitarian work throughout the world, and its two principle missions are defense of the faith and care for the poor.
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It maintains sovereignty, holding diplomatic relations with more than 100 states and United Nations permanent observer status.
Festing had been elected Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Malta March 11, 2008.
He was born in Northumberland in the United Kingdom in 1949 and as a child lived for a period of time in both Egypt and Singapore where his father, Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was posted.
The former Grand Master studied history at Ampleforth and St. John’s College Cambridge. Also an art expert, he has spent the majority of his professional career working at an international art auction house.
Festing served in the Grenadier Guards and still holds the rank of colonel in the Territorial Army. He was also appointed by the Queen as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), a role in which he served as one of her deputy lieutenants in the country of Northumberland.
Officially becoming a member of the Order of Malta in 1977, Festing took solemn religious vows in 1991, becoming a professed knight. In 1993 he became the Grand Prior of England, a position he held until 2008.