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Cardinal Raymond Burke offers a Pontifical High Mass on December 10, 2016, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Crosse, Wisconsin.Lisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews

February 21, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The Knights of Malta official at the center of controversy over the Order's Catholic identity and sovereignty says its patron, Cardinal Raymond Burke, has been “de facto” suspended.

Albrecht von Boeselager, a German aristocrat, was removed from his post as Grand Chancellor on the grounds that he violated his promise of obedience. He hadn't submitted to his superiors' request that he resign after it was revealed he had overseen the distribution of contraception in the developing world. The Catholic Church teaches that contraception is intrinsically evil. 

After Boeslager's removal caused a kerfuffle, Pope Francis personally stepped in, reinstating Boeselager to his former position. The pope also asked Grand Master Matthew Festing, the order's highest-ranking official who had removed Boeselager, to resign. This was unusual because the order of Malta is a sovereign state. 

The pontiff then appointed a “papal delegate” to run the order. 

In comments translated by The Tablet, Von Boeselager told the Archdiocese of Cologne's website,, that delegate Archbishop Angelo Becciu is now fulfilling Cardinal Burke's role. 

Becciu “has the full confidence of the Pope and is his spokesman,” von Boeselager said. “That means that Cardinal Burke as Cardinal Patron of the Order is now de facto suspended.”

Von Boeselager said it's a “completely unfounded accusation” that Pope Francis undermined the Order's sovereignty by demanding Festing's resignation.

“The Pope acted at the Order’s wish and he took great care that the Order’s sovereignty was in no way violated or impaired,” he said. “He asked the Grand Master to step down, his resignation was carried out according to the Order’s regulations and was accepted. The appointment of the Holy Father’s delegate is expressly limited to the spiritual side of the Order and has nothing to do with its activities as a sovereign power.”

Von Boeselager said the reason the pontiff became involved is because of the “false allegation” that Pope Francis had wanted von Boeselager to “step down.”

“He had to correct it,” he said. “And then many members of the Order appealed to the Holy Father to act and put things right” by reinstating the official who oversaw contraception distribution.

Burke is one of the four cardinals who submitted a dubia to Pope Francis asking for moral clarity on Amoris Laetitia. He is an outspoken defender of Catholic orthodoxy and the pro-life cause. Burke recently said the acting head of the Knights of Malta's account of the controversial events were “inaccurate” and “calumny.”