According to media reports, the decision to reinstate Boeselager, who was dismissed in December, was requested by the Pope himself in a letter after meeting with Festing earlier this week to ask for his resignation.
In their statement, the Order of Malta said Pope Francis had written a Jan. 27 letter to Rumerstein and members of the Sovereign Council reaffirming “the special relationship” between the Order and the Apostolic See.
The Pope, it read, also affirmed that Rumerstein will assume the full responsibilities of Grand Master, “in particular regarding relationships with other States,” until a new leader is elected.
In his letter, Pope Francis made a point to emphasize that his special delegate, who has yet to be appointed, will be carrying out his role on “the spiritual renewal of the Order, specifically of its professed members.”
The Order ensured their “full collaboration” with the papal delegate, “whom the Holy Father intends to appoint” in due time.
In addition to announcing Rumerstein’s nomination and Boeselager’s reinstatement, the Order voiced their gratitude to Pope Francis and to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin “for their interest in and care for the Order.”
“The Order appreciates that the Holy Father’s decisions were all carefully taken with regard to and respect for the Order, with a determination to strengthen its sovereignty,” the statement read.
Now that Rumerstein has officially taken charge of the Order, he will soon convoke “the Council Complete of State” to elect a new Grand Master.
The announcement comes after a Jan. 24 meeting between Pope Francis and Festing, during which the Pope asked the former Grand Master to tenure his resignation, to which Festing said yes.
Festing's agreement to resign follows a conflict between the Order of Malta and the Holy See over Boeselager's dismissal 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.
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The Holy See announced Dec. 22, shortly after Boeselager's dismissal, that Pope Francis had formed a group to investigate the matter.
Members of the group include Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda S.J., Belgian lawyer Mr. Jacques de Liedekerke, Mr. Marc Odendall and Mr. Marwan Sehnaoui.
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.
It maintains sovereignty, holding diplomatic relations with more than 100 states and United Nations permanent observer status.