ROME — Pope Francis on Thursday named a high-powered commission to investigate a reported condom scandal at the Order of Malta, the conservative Catholic religious order that dates from the medieval Crusades.
The order’s grand chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, was forcibly ousted earlier this month after the Order of Malta said “an extremely grave and untenable situation” came to light.
Italian daily Il Messaggero said the scandal concerned von Boeselager’s tenure as health minister and claims that he didn’t prevent the order’s workers in Africa from distributing condoms.
Church teaching opposes artificial contraception. However, even some Catholic priests and nuns in Africa and elsewhere have condoned the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS.
The order hasn’t provided details, but said the scandal involved von Boeselager’s tenure as health minister and said he had concealed the problems until an internal investigation uncovered them last year.
The pope named a top Jesuit church lawyer, the Vatican’s former U.N. ambassador to Geneva and several senior Order of Malta members to “quickly inform the Holy See” about the scandal.
Calls to the Order of Malta seeking details weren’t immediately returned.
The scandal appears to have deeply divided the knights, who trace their history to the 11th century with the establishment of an infirmary in Jerusalem that cared for people of all faiths making pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
In a press release after von Boeselager’s ouster, the order appealed for members not to abandon ship and remain united.
The order has been in the news most recently because of its divisive papal envoy, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, an arch-conservative whom Francis removed as head of the Vatican’s supreme court.
Burke has frequently lashed out at the prevalence of birth control use among Catholics. He was present at the meeting in which von Boeselager was ordered to resign but refused, prompting a disciplinary procedure that ended with him being forcibly removed, the order’s statement said.