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Knights of Malta to continue focus on the poor, grand chancellor says

ROME — The newly reinstated grand chancellor of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta said the crisis that led to the resignation of the order's grand master will remain a footnote in history that pales in comparison to the suffering of refugees and the poor.

Speaking at a news conference Feb. 2, Albrecht von Boeselager, grand chancellor of the order, said that while recent events have shown that "we are not immune to crisis in our government," the Knights of Malta will continue placing their priority on helping migrants, the poor and the marginalized.

"This crisis will be a marginal event in history. What is more at stake is the crisis we are facing in the world and the misery and the plea of the millions of people (who are) homeless, migrating and fleeing," he said.

The German nobleman's removal by former Grand Master Fra Matthew Festing was at the heart of a public dispute between the order and the Vatican.

In a statement in December, the order said Boeselager was removed "due to severe problems which occurred during Boeselager's tenure as grand hospitaller of the Order of Malta and his subsequent concealment of these problems from the Grand Magistry."

Numerous media reports have said the problems specifically regarded the distribution of condoms by aid agencies working with Malteser International, the order's humanitarian relief agency.

Although the order claimed Boeselager's ousting was an act of sovereignty, its constitution states that members take a vow of obedience to the pope who yields authority over the laity and clergy "as well as immediate authority over religious orders."

After weeks of very public tensions with the Vatican, Festing offered his resignation Jan. 24 at the behest of Pope Francis, who had established a commission to investigate his removal of von Boeselager.

Von Boeselager was subsequently reinstated as grand chancellor of the order and the pope said he would appoint a special delegate who will "specifically take care of the spiritual and moral renewal of the order," especially the 50 or so members who have taken religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Pope Francis named Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Vatican substitute secretary of state, as his special delegate and sole spokesman to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

"Until the end of your mandate, that is until the conclusion of the extraordinary chapter, which will elect the grand master, you will be my exclusive spokesperson in all matters relating to relations between the Apostolic See and the order," the pope wrote in a letter to Archbishop Becciu Feb. 2.

The special delegate, the pope said, also will work closely with Fra Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein, the chivalric order's temporary head, to carry out "the appropriate renewal of the order's constitution."

Released by the Vatican Feb. 4, the pope's letter to Archbishop Becciu came after several tense weeks which led to the Jan. 24 resignation of Fra Matthew Festing as grand master of the order.

The pope's letter made no mention of how Archbishop Becciu's responsibilities would overlap with those of Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, the current cardinal patron of the order.

The grand chancellor said he was grateful for the pope's help in resolving the crisis.

"Without this trustful relationship between the order and the pope, the order cannot function. So, the concern of the Holy Father was to reestablish the trustful relationship between order and the Holy See," he said.

Dominique de La Rochefoucauld-Montbel, current grand hospitaller of the order, said the crisis "has been troublesome for our donors," many of whom "decided maybe not to help us anymore because they thought we were fighting against the pope, which is not true."

"So now we have to restore this trust," he said.

Von Boeselager also emphasized the order's priorities of providing humanitarian relief, encouraging dialogue and assisting migrants and refugees.

"We firmly condemn discriminatory policies" against migrants and refugees, he said, "and call for a strong reaffirmation of humanitarian laws. We are alarmed and concerned by the proliferation of discriminatory positions toward immigrants based on their national origins." 

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