(Reuters) On the afternoon of Jan. 24, a black BMW pulled out of a 16th century palace in Rome, crossed the Tiber River and headed for the Vatican, a short trip to end a brazen challenge to the authority of Pope Francis.
Inside the car was 67-year-old Englishman Matthew Festing, the head of an ancient Catholic order of knights which is now a worldwide charity with a unique diplomatic status.
Festing was about to resign, the first leader in several centuries of the Order of Malta, which was founded in 1048 to provide medical aid for pilgrims in the Holy Land, to step down instead of ruling for life.
The move was aimed at ending a highly-public spat between Festing and the reformist pope over the running of the chivalric institution. The weeks-long conflict had become one of the biggest internal challenges yet to Francis’ efforts to modernize the 1.2 billion member Roman Catholic Church.
At issue was the Order’s reaction to the discovery that condoms had been distributed by one of its aid projects in Myanmar. The Order had fired its Grand Chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, whom it held responsible for the condom distribution. Von Boeselager declined to comment for this article. [More]