By Philip Pullella | ROME
They will not be drawing swords like their predecessors did 1,000 years ago, but battle lines have been drawn between conservatives and reformers in the Knights of Malta, the Catholic chivalric order and global charity.
Its former leader, Briton Matthew Festing, has returned to Rome for a decisive boardroom confrontation over its future this Saturday, defying a request to stay away by a representative of Pope Francis, who ordered his resignation in January.
Festing will be among 56 men who will vote on the leadership of an organisation with a budget of billions of dollars and 13,000 members, 80,000 volunteers and 20,000 paid medical staff running refugee camps, drug treatment centres, disaster relief programmes and clinics around the world.
His supporters have been moving behind the scenes to reassert their power and perhaps even try to reinstate him, against the wishes of the Vatican, which demanded he step down after he fired the organisation’s number two.
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