Ousted Maltese knight returns in defiance of pope's wishes

The religious soap opera at the ancient Knights of Malta religious order has taken on new drama on the eve of the election of a new leader.

Pope Francis has invited more than a dozen senior knights to a pre-vote huddle Wednesday at the Vatican hotel where he lives. The topic: Saturday's vote to replace Fra' Matthew Festing, whom Francis effectively ousted as grand master in January after a public internal battle.

Even more surprising is that Festing is returning to Rome from Britain to cast his ballot Saturday in defiance of the pope's wishes.

In an April 15 letter, Francis' delegate running the order had specifically asked Festing to stay away from Rome for the good of the order.