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Knights of Malta

Condom row puts Knights of Malta at odds with Pope Francis

A German aristocrat at odds with the charitable Order of Malta has said he will appeal to keep his job as its grand chancellor. The order's British head removed him in a row over condoms for people with HIV in Myanmar.

Albrecht von Boeselager has fought back, saying his removal by Grand Master Mathew Festing last month lacked "any legal basis" in terms of the constitution of the ancient Catholic Maltese order which runs charities in 120 countries.

On Tuesday, Festing publicly told the Vatican that Pope Francis should not send five commissioners to probe the dispute, citing the "sovereignty" of his order as an international body. It has foreign diplomatic links to 106 states.

Boeselager, a jurist and forest-owner in western Germany (pictured above), said late Thursday neither a disciplinary case had been launched against him nor had the order's 10-member Rome-based Sovereign Council reached a two-thirds majority decision to remove him.

"Not even one of the conditions" governing suspension applied, Boeselager said, adding that it was "absurd" to portray him as opposed to church teachings on sexual and family mores.

Malteser Orden - Matthew Festing (Getty Images/AFP/A. Solaro)

Festing has questioned the use and sense of a papal probe

Appointed until 2019

Boeselager, 67, was elected as the order's Grand Chancellor, a post roughly equivalent to foreign minister, in 2014 with his term due to run until 2019.

Festing sought to remove him in early December over revelations that projects in Myanmar had distributed condoms under Boeselager's watch when he previously ran Maltese International.

Boeselager said he shut down two projects but kept the third running temporarily because closing it would have slashed all basic medical services for poor people.

The project, to help sex slaves, eventually ended after Vatican intervention. Catholic teaching forbids the use of artificial contraception.

As Boeselager's replacement, the order's executive said Sovereign Council member John Critien of Malta was picked on December 14 as "Grand Chancellor ad Interim."

Kardinal Raymond Burke (picture-alliance/AP Photo/G. Borgia)

Cardinal Burke is one of Francis' top critics

Papal intervention unwelcome?

Pope Francis intervened in the dispute, placing him offside with his own envoy to the Maltese order, Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American hardliner and one of Francis' top critics.

Boeselager said Burke was present when he was told to resign in early December.

The dispute reflects broader ideological divisions in the Roman Catholic Church over the pope's emphasis on mercy in religious doctrine.

The Order of Malta, established by crusading knights in the 11th century, has many of the insignia of a sovereign state, and issues its own stamps, passports and license plates.

Not cooperating

In his report last Tuesday, Grand Master Festing, an English-born historian and art expert elected as the order's head for life, described the papal commission as "irrelevant," adding "the Order had decided that it should not cooperate with it."

In strictly legal terms, present knights were entitled to refuse to take Vatican commands from "religious superiors, all the more so as they do not all belong to the Order," according to the Grand Magistry's statement.

On December 22, the Vatican had said the knights belonged to a "lay religious order" that was at the service to "the faith and the Holy Father."

The Knights of Malta have 13,500 members and 100,000 staff and volunteers who provide health care in hospitals and clinics around the world.

The order has offices in central Rome, with a panoramic view of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, which itself is a sovereign state within Italy.

ipj/sms (AP, KNA, dpa, Reuter)

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