A papal delegate has told the former Grand Master of the Order of Malta to stay away from Rome for the election of his successor, due to take place this weekend.

In a letter dated April 15, the Pope’s special delegate to the Order of Malta, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, said that many in the order had “expressed their wish” that Fra’ Matthew Festing stay away for the election.

According to the letter, some members felt that Fra’ Festing’s presence would “reopen wounds” and prevent a return to harmony following a dispute between the Vatican and the order earlier this year.

Archbishop Becciu wrote that he had “shared the decision with the Holy Father” and that Fra’ Festing should cancel his trip as “an act of obedience”.

Writing in the National Catholic Register, Vatican commentator Edward Pentin said: “The news is surprising as sources inside the Order say Fra’ Festing, whom the Pope asked to resign in January, remains very popular within the Order and could even be re-elected … They claim this move is therefore an attempt by some who wish to take the order in a distinctly new direction to keep Fra’ Festing from having any influence in the election.”

In an interview with the Catholic Herald, Fra’ Festing said the Pope had told him that he would allow him to be re-elected Grand Master. He added: “If they re-elect me, I would have to consider agreeing to it.”

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