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Dispute escalates between Vatican, Knights of Malta

January 17, 2017

The Vatican has underlined its commitment to an investigation into controversy within the Knights of Malta, after the head of that order charged that an investigating committee was troubled by “serious accusations of a conflict of interest.”

In a letter to members of the Knights of Malta, Fra’ Matthew Festing, the grand master of the Order, reiterated that he was opposing the Vatican investigation because it was a threat to the sovereignty of the Order. He said that he was deeply troubled by the conflict with the Vatican, and “I have barely been able to concentrate on anything else.” Nevertheless he said that the Knights of Malta would not cooperate with a Vatican inquiry into internal affairs.

Fra’ Matthew disclosed that three of the five members of the investigating committee appointed by Pope Francis had been involved with a fund that had been the subject of the internal probe that culminated with the dismissal of the Order’s chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager. That involvement created a conflict of interest, he said.

On January 17, the Vatican shot back with a public statement in which “the Holy See reaffirms its confidence in the five members of the group” appointed by Pope Francis to investigate the controversy. The statement warned that the Vatican rejects “any attempt to discredit these members of the group or their work.”

In another clear warning to the leadership of the Knights, the Vatican statement called for “complete cooperation” with the investigating committee. (Fra’ Matthew had directed members of the Order not to cooperate.) The Vatican statement concluded with a promise that upon learning the details of the controversy the Holy See would “adopt, within its area of competence, the most fitting decisions for the good of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and of the Church.”

The clash between the Order and the Vatican pivots on the question of whether or not the Holy See has authority over the internal affairs of the Knights. Although the Order is a Catholic religious institution, pledging loyalty to the Roman Pontiff, it is also a sovereign body under international law. The Knights of Malta insist that the dismissal of a member—for reasons the Order has declined to discuss in public—is a matter of internal governance.


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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: bruno - Jan. 18, 2017 5:09 AM ET USA

    Very interesting that the Vatican statement didn't directly refute Fra Matthew's claim of a conflict of interest among members of its investigating committee. It also seems very strange that the dismissal of one knight would cause such a huge fuss in the Curia, considering all of the very real issues facing the Church in the world.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Jan. 17, 2017 9:46 PM ET USA

    Easy fix. Have Pope sit down with the head of the independent and sovereign order of the Knights of Malta or is that beneath him?

  • Posted by: jonesd1936 - Jan. 17, 2017 1:07 PM ET USA

    WOW ! tinder...spark...flames. No firefighters, nothing like a Supreme Court. Where does this situation take us ?