Knights of Malta chief resigns amid spat with Pope Francis
The resignation of Grand Master Matthew Festing, confirmed by the order on Wednesday, follows a month-long stand-off that had become a test of the reforming pope’s authority over rebellious Church conservatives.world Updated: Feb 09, 2017 19:51 IST
Pope Francis ended a bitter dispute with the Knights of Malta by obtaining the resignation of the ancient order’s top official in a saga linked to a row over condoms.
The resignation of Grand Master Matthew Festing, confirmed by the order on Wednesday, follows a month-long stand-off that had become a test of the reforming pope’s authority over rebellious Church conservatives.
“The Grand Master was received on Tuesday by Pope Francis who requested his resignation, which the Grand Master agreed to,” a spokesman for the Order said.
In theory, Briton Festing was in the job for life. His resignation will have to be approved by the Order’s sovereign council.
The unprecedented and very public dispute between the Vatican and the Knights was seen by Holy See watchers as a proxy war between Church liberals and conservatives, led by American cardinal Raymond Burke.
Festing and the Vatican have been locked in a bitter dispute since one of the order’s top knights, Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, was sacked in December after the charity distributed condoms as part of a medical project for the poor.
The row erupted last month when Francis appointed a five-strong team to examine the circumstances in which the Order’s number three was forced out of his job.
The Knights, a Church-linked charity body descended from the crusaders of the Middle Ages, refused to cooperate.
They said the December dismissal of Boeselager was an internal affair.
Festing claimed in a leaked letter that three of the Vatican’s appointees had a conflict of interest because of links to a Geneva-based fund in which the Order also had a stake. That blatant defiance of papal authority appears to have been the last straw.
Von Boeselager’s dismissal had been seen by some as being the result of him being too liberal for Burke, who has acted as the Vatican’s liaison with the Order since being sidelined from more important roles by Francis.
Others said the issue was whether the Vatican was properly kept in the loop and whether Von Boeselager, who has a brother who is said to be close to Francis, was wrongly informed the pope had approved his sacking.
Burke is a prominent conservative figure who has been outspoken in his criticism of Francis’s efforts to reform Church teaching on questions related to family, marriage and divorce.