Pope dissolves Knights of Malta leadership, issues new constitution

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

VATICAN CITY, September 3 (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Saturday dissolved the leadership of the Knights of Malta, the global Catholic religious order and humanitarian group, and installed a caretaker government ahead of the election of a new Grand Master .

The change, which the pope issued in a decree, came after five years of often acrimonious debates within the order and between some senior members of the old guard and the Vatican over a new constitution that some feared would weaken its sovereignty.

The group, whose official name is Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta, was founded in Jerusalem nearly 1,000 years ago to provide medical aid to pilgrims to the Holy Land.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

It now has a multi-million dollar budget, 13,500 members, 95,000 volunteers and 52,000 medical staff who run refugee camps, drug treatment centers, relief programs in disasters and clinics around the world.

The order has been very active in helping Ukrainian refugees and war victims.

It has no real territory apart from a palace and offices in Rome and a fort in Malta, but is recognized as a sovereign entity with its own passports and license plates.

It has diplomatic relations with 110 states and permanent observer status at the United Nations, allowing it to act as a neutral party in relief efforts in war zones.

Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, the pope’s special delegate to the order, told reporters during a briefing with some members of the provisional government that the order’s new constitution would not weaken its international sovereignty.

But as a religious order, it had to remain under the auspices of the Vatican, said Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a member of the task force that prepared the new constitution approved by the pope on Saturday.

Francis has called an Extraordinary General Chapter for January 25 to begin the process of electing a new Grand Master.

The last, Italian Giacomo Dalla Torre, died in April.

“We hope this will restore the unit to order and increase its ability to serve the poor and the sick,” Tomasi said.

Tomasi and the Grand Master’s Lieutenant, Canadian John Dunlap, will lead the group to the General Chapter. A new Grand Master is expected to be elected by March, officials said.

Under the previous constitution, the best Knights and the Grand Master had to be of noble lineage, which the reformers said excluded almost everyone but Europeans from serving in prominent roles.

The new constitution eliminates the rule of nobility as well as the tradition that Grand Masters are elected for life.

“It will be more democratic. The issue of nobility has now become secondary,” Tomasi said.

Future Grand Masters will be elected for a 10-year term, renewable once, and must retire at age 85.

Reformers, backed by the Vatican, had called for more transparent government to bring in fresh blood and allow the order to better respond to the massive growth it has seen in recent years.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Reporting by Philip Pullella, editing by Louise Heavens

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Leave a Reply