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 giulio napolitano /


January 25, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — The leader of the Knights of Malta has just resigned after a public battle with the Vatican over his decision to remove a fellow Knight who was involved in a program distributing contraception.

Pope Francis personally asked Grand Master Matthew Festing to resign, a Vatican source told InfoVaticana last night. A later report by Reuters confirmed the pope's involvement.

The news of Festing's resignation is a shock to faithful Catholics since he had just succeeded in removing Knights official Albrecht von Boeselager, a German aristocrat who had been the subject of scandal within the order for years.

The action against Boeselager was fought behind the scenes by one of Pope Francis’ closest advisors on his Council of Cardinals – German Cardinal Reinhard Marx. The ordeal was complicated by the role of Cardinal Raymond Burke, whom Pope Francis appointed as the patron of the Knights of Malta in 2014. However, Vatican expert Edward Pentin presents the intriguing possibility that the story is more about the seeking of a German faction to take over the Order.

Sources told Pentin that while the German association is the wealthiest of all the national bodies in the Order, it cannot control the order because the highest ranks are reserved to professed religious “who take a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience.” Therefore, the Germans seeking power do not qualify.

Boesalager issued a complaint over his dismissal to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and days before Christmas the Vatican announced that the Pope had called for a group to study Boeselager’s removal. That put on hold the decision to dismiss him. The Order has repeatedly rejected this commission as an interference in their internal affairs.

The “independent” commission – as Boeselager called it – is composed of five members: Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda SJ, Jacques de Liedekerke, Marc Odendall, and Marwan Sehnaoui. All of the members chosen by the Pope except Fr. Ghirlanda are members of the Order and in allegiance with Boeselager.

As an informed source told LifeSiteNews, they are “under Boeselager’s payroll,” referring to Liedekerke, Odendall and Sehnaoui. A source also told LifeSiteNews that Liedekerke is connected to Freemasonry.

Writing in the National Catholic Register, Pentin revealed “Odendall, Sehnaoui, and Archbishop Tomasi have been involved with Boeselager regarding a very large bequest to the Order, made several years ago by a benefactor resident in France, worth at least 120 million Swiss Francs ($118 million). Cardinal Parolin is understood to have been aware of the bequest since at least March 2014.”

The latest move by the Pope, which indications noted above stem from the bidding of Cardinal Marx, has left the Pope in a bad light. From outward appearances it seems Pope Francis cared little about the anti-life scandal that persisted for years in the Order. Rather, the Pope heeded the will of the moneyed and powerful aristocrat who was held responsible for the scandal.