It is a rare and serious matter when the pontiff intervenes with a religious order that operates as a sovereign entity. Last week, Pope Francis stepped in and forced the resignation of the Knights of Malta’s grand master, Matthew Festing.
This has left many Catholics wondering where the pope actually stands on the issue of birth control.
What happened? The answer is far from simple.
Festing dismissed the order’s grand chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, on Dec. 6, 2016. This was done in light of recent allegations that Boeselager allowed the distribution of condoms through the Knights’ ministry in Myanmar.
Pope Francis appointed a commission of inquiry to look into the situation, but, according to their official statement, the Order responded by saying that to protect their sovereignty, it should not cooperate.
In response, Francis called Festing to Rome two weeks later, and demanded him to resign under obedience. Festing resigned, and Boeselager has since been reinstated as grand chancellor. Archbishop Becciu has been appointed as the temporary head of the order.
The Knights of Malta have a long and prestigious history of chivalry and service to those in need. They are most known for becoming a monastic and militant order in history. The order had humble beginnings as a hospital in Jerusalem during the crusades that would accept anyone in need, regardless of race or religion.
Today, the order operates as a sovereign entity that enjoys diplomatic relations with 81 countries. They have stood as a shining model for conservative Catholics across the globe.
The outlook on the pope following this incident is not very bright. The Wall Street Journal stated that by forcing Festing’s resignation, Francis has “publicly humiliated a Catholic knight for upholding moral orthodoxy.”
The other issue at hand is the witch hunt that the Pontiff is continuing for Cardinal Burke.
“The Pope then had Festing include in his letter of resignation that the Grand Master had asked Boeselager’s dismissal under the influence of Cardinal Raymond Burke, the patron of the Order,” an article in The National Catholic Register said. “However, as patron, the cardinal has no governance in the Order and can only counsel the Grand Master, meaning the decision to dismiss the Grand Chancellor belonged solely to the Grand Master.”
Many conservative Catholics are fond of Cardinal Burke, as he has been a champion for orthodox moral values from the time he was Archbishop of St. Louis to his tenure as a Cardinal.
Burke was one of the four Cardinals to submit their dubia (doubts) to the Pontiff regarding Amoris Laetitia, affirming the Catholic Church’s dogma towards Holy Communion for the Catholic divorced and remarried. As of this writing, Francis refuses to answer the dubia, and also refuses to clarify further on Amoris Laetitia.
Sadly, these events continue to divide the flock of our Holy Mother Church.
Conservative Catholics have further doubts and mistrust of their pontiff because of this seeming strike against orthodox morality, and progressive Catholics rejoice to see Cardinal Raymond “Breitbart” Burke slapped on the wrist yet again.
The Church is meant to bring Catholics together, and the further politicization of an institution that should be far from political is making matters worse.
According to Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Petri priest Rev.Phil Wolfe:
“Although St. Peter was told, ‘Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,’ it doesn’t mean that the devil wouldn’t give it the old college try.”
We will move forward confident that the church will stand against whatever divide is pervading through it now, but we must continue to strive to mend the fences.