Knights of Malta seek to reaffirm commitment to the poor

Albrecht von Boeselager Credit Daniel Iba n ez CNA Albrecht von Boeselager, who was recently reinstated as Grand Chancellor of the Knights of Malta. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

After a tense row with the Holy See led to the resignation of their Grand Master and the reinstatement of ousted Grand Chancellor Albrecht von Boeselager, the Order of Malta has reaffirmed their priorities amid the crisis, stressing that the poor must always be put first.

Pointing to the Order's current crisis, Boeselager told journalists Feb. 2 that it will be "a marginal event in history," and that "what is more at stake is the crisis we are facing in the world and the misery and the plea of billions of people homeless, migrating."

"Please don't forget to report about these cases and fight the arrogant ignorance regarding these crisis and the indifference," he said.

Boeselager made his appeal at the end of a news conference that took place on the heels of the Jan. 24 resignation of the Order's former Grand Master Matthew Festing at the request of Pope Francis, and his own reinstatement as Grand Chancellor.

Festing's resignation marked the end of a month-long power struggle between the Order of Malta and the Holy See, which began with Boeselager's forced dismissal from both his position, and his membership in the Order, in early December.

The Holy See then intervened, establishing a committee to investigate the decision. When the Order refused to cooperate with the argument that the decision to dismiss Boeselager was an "internal act of governance" and therefore the Holy See's investigative group was "legally irrelevant" given the Order's sovereignty, the Holy See responded Jan. 17 by reiterating its confidence in the group and its work.

Shortly after that Festing was called in for a private meeting with the Pope and was asked to resign. Three days later the Order's Sovereign council voted to accept Festing's resignation and named Grand Commander Fra' Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein as "lieutenant ad interim" until a new Grand Master is elected.

Boeselager, whose brother Georg von Boeselager was appointed a member of the Board of Superintendents of the IOR Dec. 15, was also reinstated as Grand Chancellor.

In a letter to Rumerstein and members of the Sovereign Council, the Pope said he would eventually be appointing a special delegate to oversee "spiritual renewal of the Order, specifically of its professed members."

The "Council Complete of State" to elect a new Grand Master must be held within three months of the former's resignation or death. Though no dates have yet been set, the council is expected to take place in late April.

After what has turned out to be a tumultuous month and a half for the Knights, Boeselager reiterated six key priorities for the Order moving forward.

The number one priority is that the Order "has the government in place that is restoring leadership in line with the constitutions."

This has happened, he said, noting that while the Order is "unique in the world" given its status as a Catholic lay order, a sovereign entity, and a humanitarian institution all at once, "as recent weeks have shown, we are not immune when it comes to having a crisis in our government."

He offered his gratitude to Festing for accepting the Pope's proposal to resign, saying, "this has put the elective government of the Order back in a position where it can step up to its constitutional responsibilities and govern."

"We are now working to reassure our members and to restore normality in the way we function," he said, highlighting loyalty to the Holy Father as a second key priority for the Knights.
"Let me reassure our members, and everybody, that the government is and will remain as a service of the Holy Father," he said, stressing that their devotion to Church teaching "is irrevocable and beyond question."

The crisis the Order underwent "was a government crisis brought about by an act illegal under the constitution," he said, voicing his gratitude to the Pope for offering guidance that led "to a swift solution."

Pointing to allegations that the group investigating the Order on the part of the Holy See had a "conflict of interest" due to links between certain group members to a fund in Geneva, Boeselager said he regrets the accusations, calling them "baseless and unfounded."

More in Europe

"We look forward to cooperating with the special delegate the Pope will appoint," he said, voicing the Order's full willingness to cooperate.

A third key priority the Grand Chancellor voiced is to keep the Order's humanitarian and socio-medial work "at the center" of the government's activity, saying the crisis in the Middle East and the Mediterranean are proof that their work "has never been more relevant and needed."

He insisted that despite their current crisis, the Order "will not allow the recent distractions in the government of the order to jeopardize our humanitarian and social work."

Pointing to a fourth priority for the Order, Boeselager said they intend to strengthen their diplomatic engagement, since their sovereignty and diplomatic network "play a vital role in the Order's ability to serve peoples in need and is an asset to the Catholic Church."

Boeselager said the Order also intends to place a strong emphasis on addressing the needs of migrants and refugees, and plans to "scale up projects" in needy areas.

"The priority for the order of Malta is to continue unabated its many humanitarian projects in over 20 countries worldwide," he said, noting that "the needs of migrants and refugees has never been greater."

A final priority highlighted by the Grand Chancellor was the firm condemnation of "discriminatory policies" toward migrants, and the need to advocate for "a strong reaffirmation of humanitarian laws."

(Story continues below)

"We are alarmed and concerned by the proliferation of discriminatory positions toward immigrants, not least based on their countries of origin," he said, noting that "history has already provided us with plenty of examples showing dramatic and monstrous consequences of policies based on origin and race."

In a question-and-answer session after giving his brief address, Boeselager addressed concerns that the Pope had somehow interfered with the Order's sovereignty by asking for Festing's resignation, as well as his mandate for reform under the guidance of his own personal delegate.

"The Vatican took care of the crisis, or started to, when it was made aware of the fact that the wish of the Holy Father was invoked when I was asked to resign," he stated.

This turned out to be false, and "that's the reason the Holy Father and the Vatican stepped in, so it has nothing to do with our sovereignty," he said, and, pointing to the Pope's Jan. 28 letter to the Order, noted that Francis himself said that "he will not interfere with our relations with states."

Both Pope Francis and the Holy See are well aware "that our sovereignty is a service of the Church," he said.

Boeselager also countered claims that Festing was essentially discharged by the Pope. "It isn't right to say the Grand Master was ousted," he stated. "He was asked, I suppose – none of us were present, but – in a pastoral way, to consider resignation."

Pointing to the distinction between the religious and sovereign sides of the Order, Boeselager described the relationship as being like two sides of the same coin, which are "very much interlinked."

"So one side of course has consequences for the other side, but the Pope made it very clear that the focus will be the religious side of the Order," he said, explaining that their government soon plans to invite ambassadors to the Order to talk to them about the situation.

On the point of the Order's sovereignty, the Grand Chancellor made a point to emphasize that the media's concentration on this aspect, "partly provoked by the letters put out by the Grand Master before," is missing the point.

"The base is that the Order needs to work in a trustful relation with the Holy Father and the Holy See. Without this trustful relation, the Order cannot function," he said, adding that the Pope's concern "was to re-establish the trustful relation between the Order and the Holy See."

He said that while many of the reasons he was asked to resign are "a mystery to me," part of it had to do with "an increasing tension and disagreement between the elected government of the Order, not only me but also my colleagues, and people brought in by the Grand Master without regard to the constitution in positions that are not constitutional."

Pointing specifically to allegations that under his watch the Order's charity branch had inadvertently been involved in distributing condoms in Burma to prevent the spread of HIV, Boeselager said the problem was discovered by an internal audit, and action was taken "immediately."

Noting how this has been widely publicized, he said that "I think it has been proven that I, as far as I know that was also the result of the Vatican commission, that the allegations in this case against me are groundless."

When asked what the "moral and spiritual" reform of the Order's religious aspect might consist of, Boeselager said that has yet to be seen, but since there are only 55 Professed Knights, "Probably one of the aspects of the reform will be what can be done to attract more people" to the vocation."

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.