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Conscience Magazine

Order of Malta Condom Scandal

April 19, 2017

On December 8, 2016, Albrecht von Boeselager, grand chancellor of the Order of Malta, was forced from his position after refusing to tenure his resignation at the request of Fra’ Matthew Festing, 79th prince and grand master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Festing’s grounds for von Boeselager’s removal stem from revelations that the lay order’s charity branch distributed condoms to thousands in Myanmar during his chancellorship.

Upon von Boeselager’s removal, Pope Francis authorized a commission to investigate the specifics of his ouster. Approached by the papal commission, Fra’ Festing refused to cooperate, citing both the order’s sovereign status, as well as “serious accusations of a conflict of interest” involving three of the commission’s five members. The three members in question have financial ties to a Geneva-based fund in which the Knights have a stake, and Festing dismissed the ability of the commission to maintain objectivity with regard to the investigation.

Pope Francis, flanked by members of the Order of Malta, addresses the recently ousted Grand Chancellor of the Order, Albrecht von Boeselager. © Getty Images
Pope Francis, flanked by members of the Order of Malta, addresses the recently ousted Grand Chancellor of the Order, Albrecht von Boeselager. © Getty Images

According to the National Catholic Register, in 2014 von Boeselager and the three commission members were involved in an $18 million bequest that was brought to the attention of the Vatican. A series of circumstances led Festing to open an internal investigation into the bequest. After von Boeselager approached

Francis with the news that it was upon the request of the Holy See that he should resign—something the Vatican secretary of state has since asserted that the pontiff never requested— the pope assembled the commission.

Amidst the swirl of controversy, on January 25, Festing subsequently resigned as prince and grand master after a meeting with Pope Francis. While confusion continues to surround precisely what happened, critics have noted the possibility of behind-the-scenes conflict, pointing to the pontiff’s ambassador to the Order of Malta in the midst of a contraceptive scandal, Cardinal Raymond Burke. Burke has been a staunch critique of Francis, specifically with regard to his attitudes and policies regarding sexual ethics.