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04 January 2017 | by Christopher Lamb

The messy civil war engulfing the Knights of Malta could have a positive side effect for Pope Francis. It might spell the end for his most prominent critic. Thanks to some nifty footwork from Francis, Cardinal Raymond Burke – who is threatening to correct the Pope publicly for going soft on Communion for divorcees who remarry – is facing an investigation into the dismissal of senior knight, Albrecht von Boeselager, in a row over the distribution of condoms in Africa.

Just before Christmas, the Pope swiftly set up a papal commission to investigate the saga of Boeselager’s sacking, which allegedly was in breach of the knights’ own rules, a move that puts serious pressure on Burke, the patron of the order and the link man between the knights and the Vatican.

This has come about because it was the cardinal who told Boeselager that the Holy See wished for him to go, despite the issue of condoms being distributed as part of an aid programme having been resolved between the order and the Vatican some years ago. Burke is left with some awkward questions. Did he have the authority to claim the Holy See wanted Boeselager out? Did he consult anyone inside the Vatican before the dismissal? Did he consult Pope Francis? And if not, why not?

If the cardinal is found to have gone against the wishes of the Holy See then the Pope has little choice but to move Burke or to place the order under some a form of special measures. Either way the cardinal is in difficulties.

Meanwhile the knights have virtually declared war on the Pope, with the Grand Master, Matthew Festing, taking the extraordinary decision to tell Francis that his investigation is unwarranted and that he has no business interfering in the order’s affairs.

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