Pope overhauls Knights of Malta
Pope Francis launched an overhaul of the Knights of Malta, a global humanitarian group and major Catholic religious order, dissolving its leadership on Saturday. The Pontiff also issued a new constitution of the order and installed a provisional government for it.
The overhaul comes after years of heated debate over the future of the group, officially known as Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta. Established nearly 1,000 years ago in Jerusalem, once a religious military order, it has evolved into a humanitarian group, active worldwide and running such institutions as clinics and refugee camps.
Announcing the overhaul, the Pope praised the “generous contribution of Members and Volunteers,” of the order, which brings together nearly 100,000 volunteers and more than 50,000 medical staff worldwide. At the same time, he acknowledged the need to “begin a profound spiritual, moral and institutional renewal of the entire Order.”
Democratization of the order is among the main changes for the institution, with the new constitution eliminating the rule for the Grand Master and the top Knights requiring a noble background. The rule had effectively barred any non-Europeans from ever reaching the top ranks in the order.
“It will be more democratic. The question of nobility has now become secondary,” the Pope’s special delegate to the order, Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, told reporters at a press briefing. “We hope this will re-establish unity in the order and increase its ability to serve the poor and the sick,” he added.
The changes have been welcomed by the order itself, with the appointed head of the caretaker government, the Lieutenant of the Grand Master, Canadian John Dunlap, stating the overhaul demonstrated “the great love the Pontiff has for our Order.”
“In his careful review of the various proposals put before Him these last months, the Pope has determined a path forward that promises to ensure the Order’s future both as a Religious Institute and a Sovereign Entity,” he stated.
The caretaker government will stay in charge of the order until January 25, when an extraordinary general chapter is set to convene to begin electing the new Grand Master. The last one, the 80th Grand Master of the order, Giacomo Dalla Torre, died back in April, with the post remaining vacant since.