Catholic Knights of Malta remove top official amid questions over fidelity to Church teaching
ROME, December 15, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, an organization of professed Catholic knights overseen by the Vatican, have removed a top official amid an alleged flap over the distribution of condoms in the developing world, and allegations of infidelity to Church teaching.
As the controversy reaches the public, the Order says it is now between them and the Vatican, which means it will involve Cardinal Raymond Burke, whom Pope Francis appointed as patron of the Order in 2014.
The Prince and Grand Master of the Order on Wednesday appointed Fra’ John Critien as Grand Chancellor ad interim to replace Albrecht von Boeselager after he was removed from his post last week on the grounds that he violated his promise of obedience.
The Order’s website reported that Critien will assume the post until the next election in 2019. Critien is a professed Knight of Justice.
The news of von Boeselager’s removal surfaced this week on the website of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, known simply as the Order of Malta.
Von Boeselager was relieved of his office by Prince and Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing. The move was announced in a letter addressed to the heads of the Sovereign Order of Malta national entities.
Boeselager is a German noble (“Freiherr”) and would have had his mandate as Grand Chancellor until 2019. But he was sacked early. The Tablet reported that Boeselager called his dismissal a “violation” of the Knights’ constitution, a statement denied by Festing.
Festing explained that the removal of Boeselager is a “matter between the Holy See and the Order” now. That means that Cardinal Raymond Burke will be involved. Appointed on November 8, 2014, as Patronus of the Sovereign Order of Malta and as the Pope’s personal ambassador to the Grand Master and the Order, Burke together with the Grand Master will be responsible for sorting the matter out.
The dismissal was followed by a kind of pressure. The Grand Priory of Bohemia based in Prague said in a letter that there would be “catastrophic repercussions” if the Grand Master were to breach the rules of the Order.
After the dismissal, Boeselager explained in emails to various members of the Order that he was being denounced as a “liberal Catholic unwilling to accept the teaching of the Church.” At least in one respect, this appears to have merit because evidence has surfaced demonstrating that condoms were distributed in various parts of the world by Malteser International (an international institution focused on humanitarian aid) during the period that Boeselager was both member of the Sovereign Council as the Order’s Grand Hospitaller and member of Malteser International’s board. While it appears that the distribution might have ceased, this breach of Church teaching could have been discovered earlier if it been reported to the Grand Master by Boeselager when he was Grand Hospitaller.
In an explanatory post on the Order’s website titled “The current situation between the Order of Malta and Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager” (which has been modified slightly), the Order gives a direct answer to the public saying that “unfortunately, some details of the events of last week are being circulated and discussed in an unbalanced manner.” This statement confirmed that “an extremely grave and untenable situation” became apparent about Boeselager who was called for a meeting in the presence of the Grand Commander, Fra’ Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein, and Cardinal Burke as the Holy Father’s representative to the Order of Malta.
In the meeting, the Grand Master called upon Boeselager to resign. After Boeselager refused, “the Grand Master had no choice but to order him under the Promise of Obedience” to resign. Boeselager refused ostentatiously.
“Thus, the Grand Commander, with the backing of the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council and most members of the Order around the world, initiated a disciplinary procedure after which a member can be suspended from membership in the Order, and thus all Offices within the Order.”
The reason for the removal cited by the Order were “severe problems” that occurred during Boeselager’s tenure as Grand Hospitaller – the seat in charge of the charitable work of the Order – and his subsequent lack of communication with Festing.
With his decision to ask Boeselager to step down, the Grand Master was surely acting completely within his rights. The Knights of Malta are a religious order formed of lay members. The Order’s members can be divided into three categories, the Knights of Justice or “First Class,” the Knights and Dames in Obedience or “Second Class” and the Knights and Dames of the “Third Class.”
Only the professed Knights of Justice take all three religious vows, that is of poverty, chastity and obedience. The Knights and Dames in Obedience take only the one binding Promise of Obedience. When Boeselager took this promise, he bound himself to religious obedience to the Superior of the Order. By refusing to step down, he broke that promise. This is the reason disciplinary measures were taken against him.
“The Grand Master asks all Members of the Order to remain in the ardent desire that the Order stays united in the current crisis,” the statement explained.
It is noteworthy that Critien is another professed Knight of Justice. Slowly the leadership of the Knights is returning to its origin as centered around professed religious. According to the statutes, the majority of the Sovereign Council should, preferably, be formed by Knights of Justice, that is professed Knights, in order to safeguard the Order’s adherence to its spiritual vocation and commitment to the teachings of the Church.
The Sovereign Order of Malta operates in 120 countries around the world and is best known for its charitable work in zones of war or humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands join them to help as professionals or volunteers.
The Order retains sovereignty under international law, including United Nations permanent observer status, and issuing its own passports, currency, and postage stamps with the insignia of the Maltese Cross.