Pope Francis blesses a rosary during his weekly audience on Nov. 30 in the Vatican. ANDREAS SOLARO AFP / Getty Images

The Order of Malta, a former Catholic secular and aristocratic institution stated on Saturday as “unacceptable” the decision of Pope Francis to open an investigation into the dismissal of a senior official for a condom-related scandal.

A charge against Von Boeselager relates to a program involving the humanitarian branch of the group several years ago that helped sex slaves in Myanmar and included providing condoms to women to protect themselves from HIV infection.

The traditional teachings of the Catholic Church prohibit artificial contraception.

Von Boeselager has said that as soon as Rome learned of the distribution of condoms, two of the projects were frozen. “A third continued”, he said, “suspended it, drastically would have deprived a poor region of Myanmar of all basic medical services. The project ended up being suspended after intervention from the office of the Vatican.

Burke maintains a strict position on the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. Thus the dispute surrounding the order is a reflection of the broader ideological divisions in the Church, which have intensified during the papacy of Francis before the Pontiff’s emphasis on the merciful aspect of the institution on its doctrinal side.

Von Boeselager has said that he was “asked to resign on 6 December during a meeting with Burke and the leader of the order”, in which he was told that “the Holy Father wanted his resignation”. He later learned that the Vatican had not made that request.

The Knights of Malta said that the Pope’s decision to appoint a commission to investigate the recall came from a misunderstanding with the Vatican secretariat and noted that they had explained the situation to Francis in a letter.

The Order of Malta has many features of a sovereign state.

It issues its own postage stamps, passports and license plates and maintains diplomatic relations with 106 states, including the Vatican.

However, the Holy Father has a unique relationship with the order because the pope appoints a cardinal to “foster the spiritual interests” of the order, as well as his relationship with the Vatican, which is a sovereign state.

Francisco appointed Burke to that position in 2014 after deposing him as supreme judge of the Vatican. Since then, the Cardinal has become one of the Pope’s foremost critics, especially for his flexible interpretation that Catholics who have remarried in civil ceremonies can receive communion.

The knights of Malta have their origins in the crusades of the eleventh century, with the founding of an infirmary in Jerusalem that catered to people who were pilgrims to the Holy Land.

It now has 13,500 members and 100,000 volunteers and employees who provide health care in hospitals and clinics around the world and provide assistance in war zones and natural disasters.

 

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