DEC 24th 2016 By Deacon Nick Donnelly Europe
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The Grand Magistry of the Sovereign Order of Malta has issued a statement making it clear that the Holy See does not have the authority to appoint a commission to investigate the replacement of the former Grand Chancellor. This statement was in response to the Holy See's Secretariat of State announcing that Pope Francis had appointed a team to investigate the removal of the Order’s Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager.

The Grand Chancellor had been removed following the discovery of “an extremely grave and untenable situation”. The Italian daily newspaper Il Messaggero reported that the the scandal that had precipitated the removal of von Boeselager was the discovery that during his tenure as health minister he allegedly did not prevent the Order of Malta's workers in Africa from distributing condoms.

The Secretariat of State announced that Pope Francis had named Fr Gianfranco Ghirlanda SJ, a canon lawyer, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's former UN ambassador to Geneva and  a number of Order of Malta members to “quickly inform the Holy See” about the circumstances of von Boeselager's removal.

The Grand Magistry of the Sovereign Order of Malta issued the following statement rejecting of the Holy See's commission:

The Grand Magistry of the Sovereign Order of Malta has learnt of the decision made by the Holy See to appoint a group of five persons to shed light on the replacement of the former Grand Chancellor.

The replacement of the former Grand Chancellor is an act of internal governmental administration of the Sovereign Order of Malta and consequently falls solely within its competence. The aforementioned appointment is the result of a misunderstanding by the Secretariat of State of the Holy See.

The Grand Master respectfully clarified the situation yesterday evening in a letter to the Supreme Pontiff, laying out the reasons why the suggestions made by the Secretariat of State were unacceptable.

He assured the Holy Father of his filial devotion and asked the Pontiff for the Apostolic Blessing, both for him and for the Sovereign Order of Malta, its 13,500 members and its 100,000 staff and volunteers who continue to provide a permanent and efficient hospitaller presence in more than 120 countries in the world according to the centuries-old charism of the Order of Malta.


It is surprising that the Holy See's diplomats didn't realise that it does not have the authority to investigate the internal affairs of an independent, soveriegn body. The order's website provides enough information to make this clear:

The Sovereign Order of Malta is one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilisation. A lay religious order of the Catholic Church since 1113 and a subject of international law, the Sovereign Order of Malta has diplomatic relations with over 100 states and the European Union, and permanent observer status at the United Nations. It is neutral, impartial and apolitical.