View From Rome
15 December 2016
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You will get a memorable view of the Eternal City if you peer through a keyhole in the entrance to a villa on the Avventine Hill owned by the crusader-era Knights of Malta, the oldest and most illustrious “military hospitaller” order. But anyone taking a look inside the order today will find a less pretty sight. A blazing internal row is taking place after one of the top Knights, Grand Chancellor Albrecht Boeselager, was forced out amid claims that he was a “liberal Catholic.”
Boeselager, a highly respected figure, held a position equivalent to foreign minister and interior minster in the order, a sovereign entity that has diplomatic relations with 102 countries and observer status at the United Nations. The Knights’ Grand Master, Matthew Festing, has been accused of violating the constitution of the order by dismissing him.
Festing has hit back with an extraordinary statement in which he claims that Boeselager behaved in a “disgraceful” way by refusing to obey his order to resign. He says the dismissal was due to “severe problems” relating to the Grand Chancellor’s time running the order’s charitable enterprises. Sources say the dismissal followed a row over the distribution of condoms in Africa. Festing, however, told me last week that this issue had been resolved three years ago.
The crisis now involves the arch-conservative critic of Pope Francis, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the order’s patron. Burke was present when Festing ordered Boeselager to resign. Festing explained to me that the dismissal of his fellow Knight was now “a matter between the Holy See and the Order”. For his part, Boeselager has said that he was accused of being “a liberal Catholic unwilling to accept the teaching of the Church”. He dismisses this charge.
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