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Former Grand Master of the Knights of Malta Matthew Festing with Pope Francis in 2017.

Update April 27, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. EST: Festing is not defying the Pope by going to Rome. The Vatican has reversed its decision, and sources inside the Order of Malta told Pentin that Festing's absence would have invalidated the election.

April 26, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The former leader of the Knights of Malta is allegedly returning to Rome for his successor's election, despite being ordered by a papal delegate to stay away.

Fra’ Matthew Festing was the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta until Pope Francis asked him to resign from his position in January. Festing led the Order when it ousted a high-ranking official who had been distributing contraception around the world through the Order's charity.

The Order of Malta is a sovereign state. Some of its members take vows of obedience to the pope.

On April 15, Archbishop Angelo Becciu – who at the Pope's instructions is overseeing the order during this interim period – told Festing to “not come to Rome” for the election of his successor, scheduled for April 29.

“Your presence would reopen wounds, only recently healed, and would prevent the event taking place in an atmosphere of peace and regained harmony,” Becciu wrote to Festing. He said he had “shared the decision with the Holy Father,” and that Festing should skip his trip to Rome “as an act of obedience.”

Reuters reported Wednesday that Festing is heading to Rome anyway, and that the Order of Malta confirmed this to them.

A spokesperson for the Order said Festing “had informed the group that he would come to the meeting this Saturday at its headquarters in Rome.”

Ed Pentin of the National Catholic Register reported that insiders tell him Festing remains very popular within the Order and could even be re-elected. 

After Pope Francis asked Festing to step down, the Pope reinstated the fired condom promoter, Albrecht von Boeselager. Von Boeselager then said the Order's Patron, Cardinal Raymond Burke, was “de facto” suspended from his leadership of the organization. Burke has said Becciu is “the only person who can treat questions of the Order of Malta in the name of the Holy Father,” even though Burke's title is still “Cardinal Patron.”

In an apparent jab at von Boeselager's brother, who was recently hired by the Vatican bank, Damian Thompson of the UK Catholic Herald tweeted: