The Knights of Malta say Pope Francis has written to their leaders stressing the sovereignty of the ancient Catholic lay order, following a condom scandal linked to the order's charitable work.

The order's Sovereign Council in Rome on Saturday accepted the resignation of Grand Master Fra' Matthew Festing, who had sacked the order's foreign minister, Albrecht von Boeselager. The minister was removed as grand chancellor following revelations that condoms were distributed in Myanmar under his watch.

The Vatican intervened on the minister's behalf. On Saturday, the council scrapped the disciplinary measures against von Boeselager, who resumes his post. The Knights say Francis in his letter Friday stressed the order's sovereignty.

Until Festing's successor is elected, Fra' Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein serves as its interim leader.