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Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke.

VATICAN CITY, Italy, May 7, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis extended the mandate of his special delegate to the Knights of Malta last week, further sealing his demotion of the order’s Cardinal Patron Raymond Burke.

The Vatican released the pope’s May 2 letter on Friday, in which Francis asked Archbishop Angelo Becciu to remain his delegate and “exclusive spokesman” indefinitely for everything in regard to Vatican relations to the Order of Malta. 

Francis appointed Becciu, Substitute for General Affairs of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State since 2011, as his personal envoy to oversee the “spiritual and moral” reform of the Order, in particular its branch of professed Knights, on February 2, 2017.

In doing so, Francis effectively discharged Burke by handing Burke’s two areas of authority as cardinal patron — promoting the spiritual interests of the Order and its members, and relations between the Holy See and the Order — over to Becciu.

Becciu’s appointment as special delegate was supposed to end with the election of the Knights’ new Grand Master, which occurred with the May 2 election of Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre. 

However, Francis opted for an indefinite extension of his mandate.

“Considering the fact that the path of spiritual and juridical renewal of the S.M.O.M. (Sovereign Military Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta) has not yet been concluded,” Francis wrote, “I ask you to continue to hold the office of my Delegate up to the conclusion of the reform process and in any case until I consider it useful for the Order itself.”

“Until then you will continue to benefit from all powers and of being my exclusive spokesperson for all that relates to the relations between this Apostolic See and the Order,” he added.

Controversy has surrounded governance of the Knights of Malta for the last few years, underscoring Francis’ choppy relationship with Burke in the process.

German aristocrat Albrecht von Boeselager was removed as the Knights’ Grand Chancellor late in 2016 for violating his promise of obedience after declining to resign in the wake of revelations he had overseen condom distribution as part of the Order’s charitable work in the developing world.

Pope Francis then stepped in and reinstated Boeselager in January 2017 and asked Grand Master Matthew Festing, the Order's top official who had removed von Boeselager, to resign. 

The move caused considerable controversy given the fact the Order of Malta is a sovereign state. 

He named Becciu his special delegate charged with reform of the Order shortly thereafter.

The proposed reform of the Order has caused worry among some of its members for the possibility it could overturn of the practice of having a professed Knight of noble lineage at the head of the 900-year-old Order.

The First Class members, called the “Knights of Justice,” and who take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, have comprised the heart of the Order from its 12th century origins and have been key in the perpetuation of its moral character.

Francis’ negating Cardinal Burke’s governance as cardinal patron of the Knights of Malta was the latest in an ongoing series of snubs toward the cardinal since Francis’ 2013 election as Pope.

In 2013, Francis removed Burke from the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican office that oversees the selection of new bishops. 

Francis then demoted Burke the next year from his role as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s highest court, making Burke Patron of the Knights of Malta at that time. 

Further, Francis then removed Burke from the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2016 after Burke and three other cardinals submitted the Dubia to the pope requesting clarity on Francis’ controversial exhortation Amoris Laetitia.


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