VATICAN CITY — As the Sovereign Military Order of Malta accepted
Pope Francis' intervention in their governance, the pope urged members to
follow a path of renewal as they prepare to elect a new grand master.
In accordance with the pope's wishes, the governing council of
the order accepted the resignation Jan. 28 of Fra Matthew Festing as grand
master and appointed Fra Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein to temporarily lead the
By "putting aside personal interests and dangerous
ambitions," members, volunteers and benefactors of the order can better
dedicate themselves to the "noble and proven mission" of defending
the faith and serving the poor, the pope wrote in a Jan. 27 letter to von
Rumerstein, lieutenant ad interim of the order.
"The witness of an authentic Christian life makes
accompanying the sick more accepted and effective, and charity toward the poor
and vulnerable people of society more fraternal," the pope wrote.
The Knights of Malta have 13,500 members, as well as 80,000
volunteers and 25,000 medical professionals providing relief and humanitarian
aid in 120 countries.
Festing offered his resignation Jan. 24 at the behest of Pope
Francis, who had established a commission to investigate his removal of the
order's grand chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager.
Festing refused to cooperate with the investigation and insisted
the firing was a sovereign act outside the Vatican's jurisdiction, although the
knights take a vow of obedience to the pope.
Pope Francis said he would appoint a special delegate who — in
close collaboration with von Rumerstein — 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.
"The special delegate will have the task of being my
exclusive spokesman during the period of your mandate for all that relates to
the relationship of the order with the Holy See," the pope wrote.
The pope's letter did not clarify how the special delegate's
responsibilities would intersect with those of the current cardinal patron of
the order, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke.
According the order's constitution, the cardinal patron "has
the task of promoting the spiritual interests of the order and its members and
relations between the Holy See and the order."
Following the acceptance of Festing's resignation, von Rumerstein
expressed his gratitude to him for "the many good things he has done for
"We are grateful to Fra Matthew in his generous response to
the request of the Holy Father to resign his position for the good of the Order
of Malta," he said.
He also thanked the pope and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican
secretary of state, for "their interest in and care for our order."
"We are grateful to the Holy Father for all his decisions so
carefully taken with regard to and respect for the order, with a determination
to strengthen our sovereignty. In this and all matters, we will not yield in
our loyalty to the pope," von Rumerstein wrote.