Vatican unwavering in ongoing row with Knights of Malta

Vatican unwavering in ongoing row with Knights of Malta

Credit: Giorgio Minguzzi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Credit: Giorgio Minguzzi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

.- In the latest development in an ongoing feud between the Vatican and the Knights of Malta, the Holy See has issued a statement affirming their support for the Order and their work, but saying they expect full cooperation with an investigation into the dismissal of the Knights’ former Grand Chancellor.

“In relation to the events of recent weeks concerning the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the Holy See wishes to reiterate its support and encouragement for the commendable work that members and volunteers carry out in various parts of the world,” a Jan. 17 statement from the Vatican read.

However, it is for the “support and advancement” of the Order’s essential mission in service of the poor, sick, and the defense of the faith that the Holy See voiced a reaffirmation of “its confidence” in the five member group appointed by Pope Francis “to inform him about the present crisis of the Central Direction of the Order.”

The Vatican said it also “rejects, based on the documentation in its possession, any attempt to discredit these members of the group and their work.”

The line refers to recent reports that in the past few days the Knights have voiced their intention to launch an inquiry into the Vatican’s investigative group on the grounds that they have a “conflict of interest,” citing links between certain group members to a fund in Geneva.

The statement is the latest move in what has turned out to be a heated feud between the Knights of Malta and the Vatican over the ousting of the Order’s former Grand Chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, in early December.

Shortly after Boeselager was dismissed the Knights released a Dec. 13 statement saying his removal was due to the “subsequent concealment … from the Grand Magistry” of “severe problems which occurred during [his] tenure as Grand Hospitaller of the Order of Malta.”

Since then it has come to be known that the problem cited refers to when the Order's charity branch, under Boeselager’s watch, had inadvertently been involved in distributing condoms in Burma to prevent HIV.

In comments to CNA, the Order’s Communications Director confirmed that while the Burmese incident was part of why Boeselager was asked to resign, the full list of reasons is “more complex.” However, he did not reveal what the full motivations were, saying “the reasons for the dismissal are confidential.”

The Vatican announced Dec. 22 that Pope Francis had formed a group of five senior officials shortly after the forced resignation to investigate the matter. Members of the group include Archbishop Silvestro Tomasi, Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda S.J., Jacques de Liedekerke, Marc Odendall, and Marwan Sehnaoui.

In response, the Knights issued a Jan. 10 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 is “legally irrelevant” given the Order’s sovereignty.

The Order voiced both their refusal to cooperate in the investigation as well as their encouragement for members questioned by the Vatican group to not take a stance other than that of the Grand Magistry.

“Considering the legal irrelevance of this group and of its findings relating to the legal structure of the Order of Malta, the Order has decided that it should not cooperate with it,” they said in their Jan. 10 statement, insisting this refusal is meant to protect the Order’s sovereignty against “initiatives which claim to be directed at objectively (and, therefore – quite apart from its intentions – reveals it to be legally irrelevant) questioning or even limiting said Sovereignty.”

They also charged that depositions individual members might give to the Vatican’s investigative group “cannot, in their terms and judgments, be in contradiction, directly or indirectly,” with the decision to remove Boeselager from his position.

However, despite the ongoing tensions, the Vatican in their Jan. 17 statement said the Holy See “counts on the complete cooperation of all in this sensitive stage.”

In addition, it said the Holy See “awaits the report of the above-mentioned group 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.”

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