IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan
By Junno Arocho Esteves
— For more than 900 years,
the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta has seen its fair share of
victories, defeats and institutional changes.
challenges did not prepare them for the intense media scrutiny that followed a very
public crisis in
the order at the beginning of the year.
Mauro Bertero Gutierrez, a member of the order’s Government Council and the person overseeing
the institutional reform of Order of Malta, said that while the first months of
2017 “were indeed troubled times,” the crisis also offered an
opportunity to “update the rules by reaffirming our identity.”
reform is directed mainly at reaffirming the mission we have had for the last
900 years. When we say mission, it’s in many ways a way of going forward
without forgetting that many times to go forward, you must be willing to go
back” to the source of the order’s spiritual commitment of service to the
sick and the poor, Bertero told Catholic News Service Aug. 1.
The crisis was
triggered by an incident involving one of the many charitable projects the Order
of Malta is involved in through its humanitarian relief agency, Malteser
Freiherr von Boeselager, the order’s grand chancellor, was serving as health minister in 2013 when Malteser International
worked with several aid agencies on a project in Myanmar aimed at preventing
the spread of AIDS. Among
other things, the project distributed condoms, something von Boeselager later
said “had been initiated at a local level without the knowledge” of
Malteser International headquarters.
Von Boeselager said that when he found out,
he moved to halt the distribution of condoms and, he added, he never tried to conceal
what had happened.
Matthew Festing forcibly removed von Boeselager from his post as grand
chancellor Dec. 6, 2016, citing
“severe problems” during his tenure as grand hospitaller of the Order
of Malta and “his subsequent concealment of these problems from the Grand
Francis established a commission Dec. 22 to gather the facts and
“completely inform” the Holy See about the circumstances leading to von Boeselager’s
removal as well as to foster dialogue and a peaceful resolution.
Festing insisted that the former chancellor’s removal was an act of internal
governance that fell
exclusively within the order’s power and questioned the legality of the
investigation into von Boeselager’s removal.
the order’s sovereignty was at the heart of the argument against the papal commission, Bertero
said the sovereignty was not “put into discussion” during the
investigation and was affirmed by Pope Francis.
are members of the Catholic Church; we owe our total loyalty to the Holy
Father,” Bertero told CNS. “But make no mistake: We are a sovereign
Order of Malta. We have been and we’ll continue to be one.”
receiving the commission’s report, Pope Francis met with Festing Jan. 24 and
then named Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Vatican substitute secretary of state, as
his special delegate to the knights, asking him to work closely with them to
carry out “the appropriate renewal of the order’s constitution.”
put the Order of Malta into the media spotlight with numerous articles
speculating about a rift between conservative and progressive factions within
the ancient order.
don’t remember any other time in our order’s history of having such media publicity
or high media profile,” Bertero told CNS.
while the institutional crisis could have “distracted us from our
mission,” Bertero said, the order never weakened its focus on serving
those most in need.
the issue initially used to justify von Boeselager’s removal — the
distribution of condoms — Bertero said church teachings were never questioned and the
order has a “different understanding of what happened.”
different when you are involved in a humanitarian effort to protect (women) who
were being raped by people who are involved in a civil war than (it is) to go
out distributing condoms in the discos in Rio de Janeiro during carnival
time,” he told CNS. “There is a morally important difference and
perception. And I believe that was understood by the Holy Father and that was
also understood by the world community.”
added, the order “learned from this” and now relies on the help of
bioethicists both within and outside the order who assist in evaluating moral
and ethical issues that arise as the order maintains its primary focus on
providing healthcare and humanitarian relief to those in need.
would the Lord say? What would the Lord do? That’s what we do in the Order of
Malta,” Bertero said. “We listen to our heart and we act according to
the Catholic teachings of the church and our responsibility, which is a moral
one as human beings.
he continued, is a way of assuring that the Order of Malta is better prepared
to fulfill its charitable and humanitarian duties in the modern age without
straying from the mission entrusted to it since their founding in Jerusalem in
did we do in Jerusalem? Defend the faith and help the sick and the poor,”
Bertero told CNS. “What do we do today in 2017? Defend the faith and bring
our best service to our lords, the sick and the poor.”
– – –
Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.
– – –
Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.