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Order of Malta leader professes loyalty to Pope Francis amid Vatican investigation

Pope Francis with Fra' Matthew Festing during a private audience in 2014 (PA)

The leader of the Order of Malta has promised Pope Francis his loyalty, as the Order faces an investigation by the Vatican over a recent controversy.

In a letter to mark the World Day of Peace, Fra’ Matthew Festing, the organisation’s Grand Master, told Pope Francis: “the Order … even in a difficult and complex time, seeks to render its service in closely adhering to the teaching of the Church and the directions which come from the Successor to St Peter.”

Fra’ Matthew was referring to the recent dismissal of Albrecht von Boeselager, the Grand Chancellor of the order. Boeselager has been accused of allowing the distribution of condoms, as part of a scheme with which the order was linked. But Fra’ Matthew said Boeselager was removed for allegedly concealing problems in his previous role of overseeing the order’s charitable work. The Order of Malta’s members run hospitals, nursing homes, night shelters and other forms of charitable outreach in 120 countries.

Boeselager refused to resign, which Fra’ Matthew called a “disgraceful” act of disobedience. Fra’ Matthew and the other senior members of the order, including the Patron, Cardinal Raymond Burke, agreed to suspend Boeselager from his membership. A new Grand Chancellor, John Chretien, has been appointed.

Pope Francis has ordered an investigation into the dispute.

On Saturday, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero that the Order faced an “unprecedented crisis”. The Pope’s commission would “gather information”, Cardinal Parolin said, “and then we will see.”