After former Grand Chancellor of the Knights of Malta Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager was dismissed in early December, many have pinpointed the decision to a contraception scandal related to a project he was overseeing.
But 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 reasons for the dismissal are confidential,” but they are “more
complex” than reducing it to just the contraception incident, Eugenio
Ajroldi di Robbiate, Communications Director for the Knights of Malta,
told CNA Jan. 12.
Problems initially arose when it was learned that the Order's charity
branch, under Boeselager’s watch, had inadvertently been involved in
distributing condoms in Burma to prevent HIV.
However, Robbiate said Boeselager wasn’t initially aware that condoms
were being distributed as part of the project, and when he found out
“he immediately stopped all the programs.”
So while the incident was indeed a factor in why the Grand Chancellor
was asked to resign, Robbiate stressed that issue is “poorly reported”
by many news agencies, since the full picture, while remaining
confidential, is “much more complex than just the point on
Robbiate also confirmed that while Boeselager had been asked to
resign, his refusal twice to comply with the request is what actually
led to his eventual dismissal, since by refusing he broke the vow of
obedience he had made as a Second Class member of the Order.
The Knights' Dec. 13 statement regarding the dismissal also noted
that Boeselager's “subsequent concealment … from the Grand Magistry” of
“severe problems which occurred during [his] tenure as Grand Hospitaller
of the Order of Malta” was a factor in the decision.
The confirmation comes alongside the latest round of a row between
the Vatican and the Knights of Malta over Boeselager’s resignation, with
the Knights saying they will not cooperate in a Vatican probe over the
former Grand Chancellor’s forced removal due to “legal reasons.”
In a Jan. 10 statement, the Knights of Malta reiterated that the
decision to dismiss Boeselager was “an internal act of governance,” and
because of this the group established by the Holy See to investigate the
decision is “legally irrelevant.”
The Vatican had formed a group of five senior officials shortly after
the forced resignation to investigate the matter. Members of the group
include Archbishop Silvestro Tomasi, Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda S.J.,
Belgian lawyer Jacques de Liedekerke, Marc Odendall, and Marwan
“Considering the legal irrelevance of this group and of its findings
relating to the legal structure of the Order of Malta, the Order has
decided that it should not cooperate with it,” the statement read,
insisting that this refusal is to protect the Order’s sovereignty
against “initiatives which claim to be directed at objectively (and,
therefore – quite apart from its intentions – reveals it to be legally
irrelevant) questioning or even limiting said Sovereignty.”
The Knights also urged members to be uncooperative, saying any
depositions individual members might give to the Vatican’s investigative
group “cannot, in their terms and judgments, be in contradiction,
directly or indirectly,” with the decision to remove Boeselager from his
Robbiate also laid to rest rumors that the Knights’ refusal to
cooperate with the Vatican is somehow rooted in tensions between Pope
Francis and Cardinal Raymond Burke, Patron of the Order and one of four
signatories of a letter asking the Pope to clarify five “dubia”
regarding his apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.
Robbiate explained that since the Order functions more like a State
that has diplomatic relations with the Holy See, Cardinal Burke, who
serves as a quasi-ambassador, “is not involved” in decisions made by
“How would he be involved?” Robbiate asked, explaining that “like any
other ambassador, the cardinal has no voice” on the internal decisions
of their leaders. So opting not to cooperate in the Vatican
investigation “has nothing to do” with Cardinal Burke, but was rather a
decision made by the Grand Magistry without the cardinal’s input.
In their latest statement, the Order spelled out the reasons why,
according to their constitutions, they are able to refuse cooperation
with the Vatican’s investigative group on legal grounds.
Citing Article 4 of their Constitutional Charter, the Knights said
the religious nature of the Order “does not prejudice the exercise of
sovereign prerogatives pertaining to the Order” since it is it is
“recognized by States as a subject of international law.”
They stressed the fact that the Order has diplomatic representation
to the Holy See which abides by the norms of international law, rather
than having the relationship of a typical religious order.
This is backed up by the Holy See’s Annuario Pontificio, the
“Pontifical Yearbook” which lists the information for all dioceses and
Vatican departments, and where the Order of Malta is listed “only once
and not amongst the religious orders, but rather amongst the States with
Embassies accredited the Holy See,” the Order’s statement read.
In regards to Boeselager’s act of disobedience when asked to resign,
the Knights noted that according to their Constitutional Charter, Second
Class members who have made a promise of obedience “are only
subordinate to their particular religious superiors within the Order.”
Because of this, the Order said that, strictly in a legal context, a
refusal to a command given in obedience “does not justify in any way the
involvement of ‘religious superiors,’ all the more so as they do not
all belong to the Order.”
Not only is the involvement of superiors who don’t belong to the
Order “legally impossible,” it is also “superfluous in terms of
protecting members of the Order,” the Knights’ statement read, noting
that should members want to appeal a decision they feel is too harsh,
they can do so in the Order’s Magisterial Courts.
The decision not to cooperate with the Vatican’s investigative group,
then, has “strictly legal grounds,” and therefore it “cannot in any way
be considered as a lack of respect” toward the Holy See or the group
carrying out the investigation.