How did Pope Francis change the Order of Malta?


Previously, these were erected by decree of the Grand Master. Their statutes have been drafted to reflect the laws and internal requirements of the respective states.

Now, however, they are called upon to abide not only by the laws of their respective states, but also by canon law. Article 196 obliges the president of the associations to submit a statement of account to the Grand Master.

According to Article 49 of the new constitution, all offices in associations, including the council, must be exercised by knights of the first or second class of the order.

In addition, the association council will transform from a governing body elected by the members to a group under the direct influence of the grand master, who will have to confirm all members of the council and of an association.

Additionally, the Grand Master can lead an association through a commissioner; the Grand Hospitaller oversees the work of the associations, including the implementation of the pastoral directives issued by the Council of Professed; the treasurer of the Grand Master supervises all the work of the Associations and draws up a consolidated balance sheet.

Also new are the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience established by the code, which evaluate religious life.

In practice, the general idea of ​​the reform is to make the Order of Malta more spiritual. This is why many paragraphs recall religious life. The grand master is almost equivalent to the superior of a congregation, and the pope refers to the knights as if they were brothers.

At first glance, it would seem that one emphasis crowds out another: membership is diluted in the sense that some 13,500 members are now seen as mere collaborators of the 37 professed, who are the only members. There is also a transfer of responsibility from the laity to the religious.

However, the Order of Malta is also a secular institution, a State without territory. The Holy See grants sovereignty, but the form of government, which allows diplomatic relations with 112 states, must be independent. And this is where the sovereignty of the Order of Malta is called into question.

Sovereignty now diluted?

Fra’ Marco Luzzago, the grand master’s lieutenant who died suddenly this year, sounded the alarm about a possible watered-down sovereignty in his speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Order of Malta in January.

He also pointed out that “an extraordinary general chapter will be convened to approve the reform when as much consensus as possible has been reached on all the main issues”.

At the time, it seemed like there was still room for quite a discussion, despite the fact that in October 2021 the pope had given Tomasi sweeping new powers to push forward the reform of the old institution. nearly 1000 years old.

The crisis began in 2014 when the Chapter of the Order of Malta decided not to re-elect Jean-Pierre Mazery as Grand Chancellor of the Order. Albrecht von Boeselager, previously Grand Hospitaller of the order, was elected to this post in a reshuffle which saw none of the Italian members once in critical roles re-elected.

This change had important consequences. In 2016, Fra’ Matthew Festing, then grand master, asked Boeselager to resign in the presence of Cardinal Raymond Burke, cardinal patron of the order (pope’s representative to the order). The request was linked to reports of alleged condom distribution in Burma by Malteser International, the order’s relief agency.

Fra’ John Edward Critien was appointed Acting Grand Chancellor. But several knights appealed the decision, arguing that the situation in Burma had been resolved and that Boeselager was not even a great hospitable at the time.

The pope has decided to create a commission to clarify the situation. In the end, it was suggested that Fra’ Festing should retire instead. On January 28, 2017, following the resignation, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Angelo Becciu, then Archbishop, as his special delegate to the order.

The order began a process of reform after appointing Fra’ Giacomo dalla Torre as lieutenant of the grand master, and the following year was appointed Grand Master.

All progress was interrupted by the death of Fra’ Dalla Torre on April 29, 2020. Consequently, Fra’ Giacomo Luzzago was elected Lieutenant of the Grand Master, a position which lasts for one year and can be renewed. The pope, however, confirmed the appointment of the lieutenant without such a limit and, in the meantime, gave extraordinary powers to the new delegate, Cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi.

Then, on the sudden death of Fra’ Luzzago, the pope personally appointed a lieutenant of the grand master in the person of Eng John Dunlap. With him and Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda on the team of delegates, this latest reform was carried out, forcing its approval without going through a discussion.

There were moments of tension with the appointment of another committee for the reforms, but even then the contribution of this committee was nullified.

On the eve of the pope’s final decision, a group of associations representing around 90% of the work of the Order of Malta made a public appeal to the pope, also arousing the resentment of the lieutenant of the grand master, who instead invoked obedience to the pope.

The underlying question

The issue, critics say, is no longer about the quality of the reform but about whether or not the pope’s actions amount to abuse. The interpretation given by the team of the Cardinal Delegate is that the Order of Malta must be considered a religious order in all respects and, therefore, under the authority of the Pope.

In general, however, the order is monastic only on the side of professed knights. At the same time, its sovereignty remains independent of the Holy See and has enabled diplomatic relations with 133 states and humanitarian activities recognized worldwide.

To what extent would a State maintaining bilateral relations with the Holy See be interested in maintaining ties with the Order of Malta?

But, above all, even if the question is formally resolved, will it be possible to go beyond papal interference in matters of governance of the order, or will the autonomy of the order be t permanently affected?

The Reform of Professed Knights

It is a question of principle, which goes beyond the question at the root of everything. With regard to the Order of Malta, issues of corruption and financial management have been raised, rightly or wrongly, and this has been attributed to secular tendencies.

It is therefore a question of returning to a spiritual vision, breaking the existing blockages of power and recreating a more “religious” style in the works of the Order of Malta.

Suppose these are the reasons for the pope’s decision. In this case, it must be considered that a reform of the professed knights was necessary but should not necessarily affect the sovereign prerogatives of the order.

The reform concerned, first of all, the vow of poverty, for which there was forgiveness, also because the knights had to support themselves, and the times were no longer when their noble families could have allowed them to live.

Thus, to maintain the vow of poverty, it was necessary for the order to place the professed in a position where they could devote themselves entirely to the poor and the sick within the framework of the charism of the order.

Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre’s idea was to include the professed as employees of the order in the way most appropriate to their talents and education. He would receive a salary and benefit from social security and old age security as an employee. There had to be a generously endowed fund to provide the necessary means.

“Such a scenario must pose a threat to any wealthy lawyer, architect, teacher who, while formally professing poverty, may in fact remain up to date in their former circumstances indefinitely,” a source within the order said.

The reform of the pope as the end of all reform?

The formal approach of newly created Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda influenced the reform of the order, placing everything under the umbrella of canon law. But is this a fundamental change or is it a way to stop any real difference? Will the new order be representative of all authorities, even those of associationsor does it remain a purely religious organization in the hands of a few professed?

It is obvious at this point that the situation in the order cannot be seen as a struggle between the religious wing or the secular wing and that there is much more to consider. For example, Riccardo Paternò, president of the Italian Association of the Order of Malta, was present on January 25 at the meeting of the enlarged working group to define the reform of the order. However, he had not been named a member of the group.

His presence was contested by Kristóf Szabadhegÿ, president of the hungarian associationin a circular letter addressed to all senior officials of the order.

Paternò has been named by Pope Francis as Grand Chancellor of the Order, pending the January 25 meeting.

Likewise, another member of the working group, Fra’ Alessandro de Franciscis, was appointed Grand Hospitaller. Their appointment to the transitional government suggests that they also played a role in drafting the new constitution.

On January 25, the general chapter must elect the new sovereign council. From there, all the offices of the order will be reconstituted.

The risk remains, however, that associations decide to disengage from the order, retaining their autonomy to carry out their charitable work while avoiding being treated in the same way as religious organizations.


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