The governing council of the Order of Malta accepted the resignation of the former Grand Master last weekend – despite a “handful” of its 10 members dissenting from the decision.

The Pope, in a letter to Fra’ Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein, lieutenant ad interim of the order, said members of the order could better dedicate themselves to their “noble and proven mission” by “putting aside personal interests and dangerous ambitions”.

“The witness of an authentic Christian life makes accompanying the sick more accepted and effective, and charity towards the poor and vulnerable people of society more fraternal,” the Pope wrote. The Knights have 13,500 members, as well as 80,000 volunteers and 25,000 medical professionals providing aid in 120 countries.

Fra’ Matthew Festing offered his resignation at the behest of the Pope, who had established a commission to investigate his removal of the order’s grand chancellor. Fra’ Festing refused to cooperate with the investigation and insisted the move was a sovereign act outside Vatican jurisdiction.

Pope Francis said he would appoint a special delegate who, in collaboration with Fra’ von Rumerstein, would “specifically take care of the spiritual and moral renewal of the order”, especially the 50 or so members who have taken religious vows.

The Pope’s letter did not clarify how the delegate’s responsibilities would intersect with those of the patron of the order, Cardinal Raymond Burke, whose role is to promote its “spiritual interests” and its relationship with the Holy See.

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