Order of Malta’s Grand Master resigns at Pope’s request

1 min

Pope Francis prays with Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, left, then-grand chancellor of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and Fra Matthew Festing, grand master of the order, during a private audience with members of the order at the Vatican in this June 23, 2016, file photo. Festing has accepted Pope Francis' request that he resign following weeks of tensions with the Vatican over the dismissal of the order's former chancellor, von Boeselager. (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella, pool) See FESTING-MALTA-RESIGN Jan. 25, 2017.

Revelation 13
3 And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.

After weeks of very public tensions with the Vatican, the head of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta accepted Pope Francis’ request that he submit his resignation.

The order’s communications office confirmed Jan. 25 that Fra Matthew Festing, the 67-year-old grand master, met with Pope Francis the day before and agreed to resign.

The Vatican said Jan. 25 that Pope Francis intends to appoint a pontifical delegate to govern the order.

Festing, who has led the world’s largest chivalric order since 2008, will submit his resignation Jan. 28 to the order’s governing council, according to the order’s communications office.

A short Vatican statement said Festing offered to resign Jan. 24 and Pope Francis accepted his offer the next day while “expressing to Fra Festing appreciation and recognition of his sentiments of loyalty and devotion to the successor of Peter and his openness to humbly serving the good of the order and the church.”

The Order of Malta is made up of more than 13,500 knights and dames; about 50 of them are professed religious, having taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The grand master is elected for life from among the professed knights.

Although you’ll usually hear this organization called the “Knights of Malta” in conspiracy circles, their full name is a mouthful: The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. And, unlike some of the other groups you hear about in conspiracy theories, the Sovereign Order of Malta is real. This organization provides humanitarian assistance in 120 countries. It also has diplomatic relations with 104 countries, despite not being a state itself.

The Order is one of the most ancient Catholic religious orders in the world. Its pedigree dates back to around 1048 or 1050, when the Caliph of Egypt gave a group of merchants from Amalfi permission to build a combination church, hospital and convent in Jerusalem, with the understanding that the hospital would admit pilgrims of all religions and races. In 1113, Pope Paschall II issued a bull placing the Order under the authority of the Holy See, and also giving the right to elect its leaders without interference from other authorities, whether secular or religious. Since the Crusades were (to say the least) a bloody, violent time, the Order eventually acquired a military bent as it defended patients, pilgrims and conquered territory from Muslim forces.

These two abilities — the independence from other nations and the right to use military force — provide the basis for the Order’s peculiar standing in the international community.


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