Questions swirl about role of Cardinal Burke in crisis at Knights of Malta press conference
Editor’s note: The original published version of this article stated in the headline and lead paragraph that in his remarks at the press conference Grand Chancellor Boeselager had “blamed” Cardinal Burke for the crisis in the Knights of Malta. This was inaccurate because he did not do so explicitly. The article has been amended accordingly.
ROME, February 13, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Reporters at a tense February 2 press conference with recently-reinstated Knights of Malta Grand Chancellor Albrecht Boeselager repeatedly returned to what one reporter called “the elephant in the living room” – that is, the role of Cardinal Raymond Burke in the recent unrest affecting the order.
During the press conference, Boeselager thanked Pope Francis for his “guidance” in helping end the Order’s recent “crisis.” That crisis began when Boeselager was removed – at least in part at the advice of Cardinal Burke – by former Grand Master Matthew Festing for his role in a contraception-distribution scandal.
Asked at one point whether Festing had thought he could win a public battle with the pope, Boeselager responded, “My assumption is that the former Grand Master was ill advised.”
Multiple reporters then asked “By whom?” but Boesalager gave no reply.
He added that the reason the pope had intervened in the crisis was that the Vatican, “became aware of the fact that the wishes of the Holy Father was invoked when I was asked to resign.”
It is no secret that Cardinal Burke, who serves as patronus of the order, was one of the primary figures advising former Grand Master Matthew Festing to clean house by removing Boeselager. Festing himself has publicly stated that asking Boeselager to step down was “fully in accordance with the instructions” he was given by Cardinal Burke.
Burke was in turn acting after receiving a December 1 letter from Pope Francis, which followed a personal meeting between the two, in which the pope urged the cardinal to clear up the contraception scandal, expressing concern that some high-ranking officials in the Knights had refused to take action.
However, the Vatican, through Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has since said that the letter only mentioned “dialogue” as a path to seeking a solution, and that the pope had not recommended “expelling anyone.”
During the press conference reporters returned again and again to the question of Burke.
Asked by Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella about Burke’s role in the order, Boeselager replied, “We cannot foresee. We will not make comments on the role of Cardinal Burke in future. That’s up to the Holy Father.”
Another reporter asked about the letter of resignation of former Grand Master Festing, in which he was reportedly asked by the Pope to implicate Cardinal Burke in the removal of Boeselager.
“I have not seen the letter of resignation, so I can comment nothing,” said the reinstated Chancellor. “None of us were present there.”
During the press conference Boeselager explained that the Pope would “name a special delegate who will be his only spokesman in the Order.” The Vatican has since appointed Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu as Pope Francis’ special delegate to the Knights of Malta.
Another reporter asked Boeselager if, as he said, the papal delegate will be the only link to the Vatican, “then what is left for Cardinal Burke to do?”
“Please ask this question to the Holy Father,” Boeselager replied garnering laughter from reporters.
Boeselager was removed from his post in the order in December, but not before refusing to step down. His disobedience culminated with him being removed by former Grand Master Festing. Later that month, Pope Francis became involved in the imbroglio, appointing a commission to investigate Boeselager’s removal.
In a surprising action, Pope Francis forced the head of the order to resign while reinstating Boeselager to his former position.
The Order retains sovereignty under international law and does not fall under the jurisdiction of the pope. It issues its own passports, currency, and postage stamps.
The pope’s move came as a shock to faithful Catholics who viewed Boeselager’s removal over the condom scandal as signifying that the Order of Malta was cleaning house.
Catholic University of America canon law professor Kurt Martens has said Pope Francis’ action of appointing a papal delegate to the order, "amount[ed] to de facto annexation" and is a "serious violation of international law."
New York Times Catholic columnist Ross Douthat told LifeSiteNews at that time that Pope Francis’ takeover of the Order was a "characteristic move of the papacy...in the sense that the pope’s approach to church governance is very activist.”
“That activism has a tendency to come down against more traditionalist and conservative groups and...to favor more liberal groups,” he said.
John-Henry Westen and Pete Baklinski contributed to this report.
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