JAN 25th 2017 By Deacon Nick Donnelly Holy See
Xl papal audience june 2013 meeting1

Matthew Festing, the British Grand Master of the Sovereign Knights of Malta, has resigned following a meeting with Pope Francis. According to Reuters, a spokesman for the Knights of Malta indicated that the Holy Father had asked for Grand Master Festing's resignation, "The pope asked him to resign and he agreed".

The spokesman went on to explain that the Knights of Malta's Sovereign Council would formally accept the Grand Master's resignation, and the order would be run by the Grand Commander Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein, until a new Grand Master was appointed. 

Grand Master Festing had disputed the Holy See's authority to appoint a commission to investigate the replacement of the former Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager.  Grand Chancellor von Boeselager had been removed following the discovery of “an extremely grave and untenable situation”. The Italian daily newspaper Il Messaggero reported that 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.

Grand Master Festing insisted that the resignation of Grand Chancellor von Boeselager was an act of internal governmental administration of the Sovereign Order of Malta and consequently fell solely within its competence. The Grand Magistry went on to strongly reject the legitimacy of the Holy See's investigation, “Thus, considering the legal irrelevance of this group and of its findings relating to the legal structure of the Order of Malta, the Order has decided that it should not cooperate with it."

The Grand Master sent a letter to Pope Francis respectfully seeking to clarify the situation and laying out the reasons why the Secretariat of State's investigation were unacceptable. The Holy See insisted that it had the right to investigate the Sovereign Knights of Malta. 

The Catholic Herald reported on legal notes composed for the Holy See's investigative commission that set out its legal terms of reference. These notes stated:

The Pope’s right to be informed of the circumstances surrounding the removal of Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager relates “to the authority he exercises directly and immediately over all baptised faithful, whether lay or clerical". "This is not about interfering in the internal affairs of the order because the purpose of the commission, as is evident, is to give an account to the Holy Father on the procedures (used to remove Boeselager) and nothing else."

Grand Masters of the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta usually keep their positions for life. Grand Master Festing held his position for 8 years, between 2008 and 2017.