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Order of Malta reinstates Boeselager

January 28, 2017

The Catholic Order of Malta has reinstalled its German "foreign minister" Albrecht von Boeselager after intervention by the Vatican. The charity's head Mathew Festing of Britain resigned last Tuesday.

Italien Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager
Image: Reuters/R. Casilli

The Knight of Malta's top sovereign council said Saturday it had reinstated Boeselager (pictured left, above), who in December said he was told to quit by Festing in the presence of American papal critic Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke.

The row had centered on condoms distributed in 2013 during charitable projects in Myanmar once overseen by Boeselager, who insisted he had complied with Vatican teachings.

The sovereign council, in a statement issued from its order's headquarters in Rome, said it had dropped disciplinary moves against the 67-year-old Boeselager, who in 2014 was elected for a five-year term as the order's Grand Chancellor or foreign minister.

Festing's top post as Grand Master had gone on an interim basis to Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein of Austria, the order's number-two, until an election took place, the council added.

The council promised cooperation with an investigative papal delegation, which earlier this month had been rejected by Fasting as "irrelevant on the grounds that Knights of Malta was a sovereign entity with its own diplomatic network.

Allegations untrue

The German-language Catholic news agency KNA reported Saturday that papal investigators had found the allegations against Boeselager to be untrue.

Festing was driven on Tuesday to the Vatican to resign at the pope's residence, according to Reuters.

Pope Francis in a personal letter sent to the Sovereign Council on Friday said his delegation would seek to "renew the spirituality of the Order, specifically of those members who take vows."

The all-male top leaders of the Knights of Malta are not religious clerics, but each take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the pope.

Robert Matthew Festing beim Papst Malteser und der Papst
Festing visiting Pope Francis in June last yearImage: picture alliance/dpa/G.Bouys

Sources quoted by Reuters said Cardinal Burke had sought to persuade Festing to withdraw his resignation.

Burke, who was demoted within Vatican circles in 2014, had become a rallying figure for conservatives who contest Frances' reformist moves among 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

Humanitarian works

The highly public spat that saw Boeselager depart and then be reinstated had endangered the image of the charitable order, a monastic community formed in 1048 during the so-called crusades focused on Jerusalem.

Around the world  the order's humanitarian arm, Maltese International, has 13,000 members, 80,000 volunteers and 25,000 paid employees, mostly medical staff.

The order, which was evicted by Napoleon from Malta in 1798, has operated from Rome since 1834 and maintains diplomatic ties with 106 states and the EU.

Boeselager, a son of a late German aristocrat who survived a 1944 World War Two plot to kill Hitler, insisted in December that he was fully behind church teachings.

ipj/bw (KNA, dpa, Reuters, AP)