Malta’s knights ‘at war’ over Chancellor’s sacking

Move sparks 'open warfare' inside the Church’s oldest and most illustrious military order, founded in the 11th century during the crusades

Albrecht Boeselager was sacked by Grand Master Matthew Festing (second) who appointed Maltese knight John Critien as Grand Chancellor in his stead
Albrecht Boeselager was sacked by Grand Master Matthew Festing (second) who appointed Maltese knight John Critien as Grand Chancellor in his stead

Civil war has broken out among the Knights of Malta, after Grand Master Fra Matthew Festing threatened disciplinary action against any member criticising his expulsion of senior Knight Albrecht Boeselager, the Grand Chancellor.

The international Catholic weekly The Tablet said the move has sparked “open warfare” inside the Church’s oldest and most illustrious military order, founded in the 11th century during the crusades and which ruled over Malta between 1530 until their expulsion by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798.

Boeselager, who as Grand Chancellor was the number three in the Order, told friends he had been accused of not following the Church’s teaching on the distribution of condoms in Africa. Festing denies this claim, saying Boeselager tried to conceal problems concerning his stewardship of the Order’s charitable work.

The Order’s patron and Vatican liaison, the arch-conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke – a critic of Pope Francis – was present when Festing asked Boeselager to resign.

Critics say Festing violated the Order’s constitution by suspending him when Boeselager refused to resign. Now Festing has written to his Knights, threatening them with disciplinary action and that “members [who] continue to object, and who do not resign, could be submitted to disciplinary procedures… For the good of the order, I ask you to no longer circulate opinions and concerns of this matter around the world.”

“For a member in obedience like Albrecht von Boeselager to refuse an order under the Promise betrays a disregard for the Order’s spirituality and laws, his Religious Superior and Sovereign, and for the Holy Father’s representative to the Order who was supporting the Grand Master in his decision.”

The Maltese Knight, Fra John Critien, was made Grand Chancellor in Boeselager’s stead. Critien was admitted into the Grand Priory in 1983, and in 1993 took perpetual religious vows as Knight of Justice. He was member of the Sovereign Council of the Order between 1994 and 1999 and was elected again in 2014. In July 2000 Critien was appointed Knight Resident at Fort St Angelo, Malta, a position he currently holds.

The Knights operate a global charity in 120 countries, employing some 25,000 doctors and nurses. As a sovereign subject of international law, it has diplomatic relations with 102 countries and observer status at the United Nations. Boeselager doubled as foreign minister and interior minister in the Order.

Festing is referred to as “His Most Eminent Highness” and is based at Palazzo Malta in Rome, where his rank is almost equivalent to that of a cardinal. The Knights who lead the order have to be male, of noble birth, and make vows of celibacy, poverty and chastity.

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