Pope Francis on Wednesday seized control of the Knights of Malta, and action that amounts to one sovereign country annexing another, if on a very small scale.
The naming of a delegate signals a Vatican takeover, harking back to the Vatican’s previous takeovers of the Legion of Christ and Jesuit religious orders when they were undergoing periods of scandal or turmoil.
But those are religious orders that report directly to the Holy See. The Knights of Malta is a sovereign entity under international law, making the Vatican intervention all the more remarkable.
Festing had refused to cooperate with a papal commission investigating his ouster of the order’s grand chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, over revelations that the Knights’ charity branch had distributed condoms under his watch.
Festing had cited the Knights’ status as a sovereign entity in refusing to cooperate with what he said was an act of internal governance. Many canon lawyers had backed him up, questioning the pope’s right to intervene.