Knights of Malta: Pope writes to stress order's sovereignty

ROME (AP) " Pope Francis has reassured the Knights of Malta, an ancient Catholic lay order, about its sovereignty, even as a special papal delegate will work to ensure the "spiritual renewal" of its members, after revelations its charity component had distributed condoms.

The order's Sovereign Council in Rome on Saturday accepted the resignation of Grand Master Fra' Matthew Festing, who had sacked the order's foreign minister, Albrecht von Boeselager. The minister was removed as grand chancellor following revelations that condoms were distributed in Myanmar under his watch.

But the Vatican intervened on the minister's behalf.

On Saturday, the council scrapped the disciplinary procedures launched against von Boeselager, who immediately resumed his post, a statement from the Knights of Malta said. The Knights say Francis in his letter Friday stressed the order's sovereignty.

The sovereignty tussle was a touchy matter, since the Vatican is a sovereign entity as is the Knights of Malta order. Each side has diplomatic relations with scores of countries worldwide.

Until Festing's successor is elected, Fra' Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein serves as its interim leader.

Francis in his letter noted that the interim leader "assumes responsibility over the Order's government, in particular regarding relationships with other States."

But the pontiff also made clear his special delegate "will be operating on the spiritual renewal" of the order, according the statement.

The statement also said it would "ensure its full collaboration with the Special Delegate whom the Holy Father intends to appoint."

Earlier in the week, Festing met with the pope and said he would resign, after losing an internal power struggle. The Vatican said Francis had accepted his resignation.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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