Knights of Malta challenge Pope Francis's authority over condom row

London [UK], Jan. 12 : Pope Francis is facing an extraordinary challenge to his authority from an ancient Catholic order, the Knights of Malta, that is refusing to cooperate with a Vatican investigation into the sacking of a top official over the distribution of tens of thousands of condoms.

Albrecht von Boeselager was suspended December 8 after he refused a demand by the top Knight, Matthew Festing, to resign over revelations that the order's charity branch distributed tens of thousands of condoms in Myanmar under his watch, reports the CNN.

The Catholic church bans the use of contraception.

The ancient order has also warned its members to toe the line if they choose to speak with investigators.

In a statement, the Knights called Pope Francis' investigation legally "irrelevant" and aimed at limiting its sovereignty. It insisted that the ouster of its grand chancellor, Boeselager, was an act of internal governance that in no way involves religious superiors.

The conservative order said in its statement that it intended to protect its sovereignty from official oversight and its members had the legal right not to cooperate with the Vatican investigation, which was approved by Pope Francis late last year, and is being led by the Vatican's second most senior official, Pietro Parolin, who is also the secretary of state.

The fight is increasingly being seen not just as a battle over the investigation, but as a sign of the increasing anger and disobedience by some Catholic traditionalists who are opposed to Francis's papacy because they view him as too progressive on issues involving social doctrine. (ANI)