After Pope Francis asked Knights of Malta Grand Master Matthew Festing to resign earlier this week, the Order has accepted the resignation, named an interim leader and reinstated their former Grand Chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager.
According to a Jan. 28 press release from the Order of Malta, their
Sovereign Council in an extraordinary meeting held Saturday to vote on
Festing’s request to step down from office, “accepted his resignation”
and informed Pope Francis of the decision.
They also announced the appointment of Grand Commander Fra' Ludwig
Hoffmann von Rumerstein as the new “Lieutenant ad interim” until a new
Grand Master is elected.
Along with Festing’s resignation, the decision to annul the decrees
establishing “the disciplinary procedures” recently taken against former
Grand Chancellor Albrecht Boeselager as well as “the suspension of his
membership in the Order” was announced.
With the decision, “Albrecht Boeselager resumes his office as Grand Chancellor immediately,” the statement read.
According to media reports, the decision to reinstate Boeselager, who
was dismissed in December due to a condom scandal, was requested by the
Pope himself in a letter after meeting with Festing earlier this week
to ask for his resignation.
In their statement, the Order of Malta said Pope Francis had written a
Jan. 27 letter to Rumerstein and members of the Sovereign Council
reaffirming “the special relationship” between the Order and the
The Pope, it read, also affirmed that Rumerstein will assume the full
responsibilities of Grand Master, “in particular regarding
relationships with other States,” until a new leader is elected.
In his letter, Pope Francis made a point to emphasize that his
special delegate, who has yet to be appointed, will be carrying out his
role on “the spiritual renewal of the Order, specifically of its
The Order ensured their “full collaboration” with the papal delegate, “whom the Holy Father intends to appoint” in due time.
In addition to announcing the Rumerstein’s nomination and
Boeselager’s reinstatement, the Order voiced their gratitude to Pope
Francis and to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin “for
their interest in and care for the Order.”
“The Order appreciates that the Holy Father’s decisions were all
carefully taken with regard to and respect for the Order, with a
determination to strengthen its sovereignty,” the statement read.
Now that Rumerstein has officially taken charge of the Order, he will
soon convoke “the Council Complete of State” to elect a new Grand
The announcement comes after a Jan. 24 meeting between Pope Francis
and Festing, during which the Pope asked the former Grand Master to
tenure his resignation, to which Festing said yes.
Festing's agreement to resign follows a conflict between the Order of
Malta and the Holy See over Boeselager's dismissal in December 2016.
Among the reported reasons for the dismissal was that under
Boeselager’s watch, the Order's charity branch had inadvertently been
involved in distributing condoms in Burma to prevent the spread of HIV.
However, a senior official of the Order has said that while the
incident was a contributing factor in Boeselager’s resignation, the
reasons – while confidential – are much broader.
The Holy See announced Dec. 22, shortly after Boeselager's dismissal,
that Pope Francis had formed a group to investigate the matter.
Members of the group include Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Fr.
Gianfranco Ghirlanda S.J., Belgian lawyer Mr. Jacques de Liedekerke, Mr.
Marc Odendall and Mr. Marwan Sehnaoui.
On Jan. 10 the Knights issued a statement defending their decision,
calling Boeselager’s dismissal “an internal act of governance,” making
the group established by the Holy See to investigate the decision
“legally irrelevant” given the Order’s sovereignty.
The Holy See, in turn, reiterated Jan. 17 its confidence in its
investigative group and indicated it was awaiting the group's report “in
order to adopt, within its area of competence, the most fitting
decisions for the good of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and of
The Order of Malta is a chivalric order which was founded in 1099,
originally to provide protection and medical care to Holy Land pilgrims.
It now performs humanitarian work throughout the world, and its two
principle missions are defense of the faith and care for the poor.
It maintains sovereignty, holding diplomatic relations with more than 100 states and United Nations permanent observer status.
Festing had been elected Prince and Grand Master of the Order of
Malta March 11, 2008, however, his resignation cuts short the lifetime