Catholic head resigns after row with Pope over condom scandal

Vatican City, Jan 25 (IANS) The head of an ancient Catholic order has resigned after a public row with Pope Francis over the ousting of a top official involved in a condom scandal, the media reported.

Grand Master Matthew Festing, head of the Knights of Malta, quit after the Pope asked him to step down at a meeting on Tuesday, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

It followed revelations that the Knights’ charity branch had distributed thousands of condoms in Myanmar due to which the order’s grand chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, was sacked.

“The Pope asked him to resign and he agreed,” a Knights of Malta spokesperson said, adding that the next step was a formality in which the group’s Sovereign Council would have to sign off on the unusual resignation.

Festing had refused to cooperate with a papal commission investigating the suspension of the grand chancellor, over revelations the order’s charity branch distributed thousands of condoms to poor people in Myanmar on December 8 under his watch. The Roman Catholic Church teaching forbids artificial contraception.

Boeselager said he did not know about the condom distribution programme, which was an anti-HIV and family planning initiative, and stopped it when he learned of its existence.

In a statement last week, the Vatican called the issue a “crisis of the central direction” of the Knights of Malta, which was founded in the 11th century.

–IANS

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