Decapitated by the pope of its Grand Master, the Englishman Matthew Festing, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta not only has ratified his forced resignation on Saturday, January 28, but it has turned back the hands of time to the fateful 6th of December, 2016, reinstating in the role of Grand Chancellor the very man who on that day had been removed from it and suspended from the Order, the German Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager.
What reversed the fortunes within the Order, to the point of driving it to this act of total submission to the bidding of Pope Francis, were three acts carried out in rapid succession by the pontiff himself: the summoning of the Grand Master on January 24 with the order given to him to resign; the letter on the following day from secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin with the specification of the pope’s wishes; and finally two letters on January 27 from the pope himself, with a further specification of the role to be performed by the “pontifical delegate” whose arrival has been announced: “for the spiritual and moral renewal of the Order.”
And it is this last element that is the most newsworthy in the statement released this evening by the Order. As Settimo Cielo had correctly reported, Pope Francis has in effect granted the Order the faculty of proceeding according to its constitutions concerning its interim regency – now assumed by the Grand Commander of the Order, Fra’ Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein – and the appointment of the new Grand Master. So the “pontifical delegate” will neither replace nor overlap the legitimate governance of the Order, as many had hoped or feared. Instead he will accompany it with the task of “spiritual” guide. A task, that is, very similar to the one that already belongs by statute to the cardinal patron.
The decapitation inflicted by Pope Francis on the Order of Malta is therefore twofold. Because what is falling is not only the head of Grand Master Festing, but also, de facto, that of cardinal patron Raymond Leo Burke. Meaning the ones who had brought about the removal of Boeselager in the certainty that they were thereby putting into practice the mandate entrusted to them by the pope, in a December 1 letter to Burke: to “promote the spiritual interests of the order and remove any affiliation with groups or practices that run contrary to the moral law.”
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