Pope to Oversee Personally Order of Malta Reforms

Newsroom (07/02/2022 7:00 PM Gaudium Press) Talks between the Vatican and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta were suspended after weeks of tense negotiations over a new constitution for the Order. The pope notified members that he had decided to settle the question of future reform for the Order of Malta himself.

The pope’s decision was communicated Sunday 30 Jan 2022 to the Order’s senior members in an email from Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, the pope’s special delegate to the Order, and a Monday letter from the Order’s Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager.

The papal intervention suspends the constitutional reform talks, set to resume later this month. It will require both sides of the negotiation to make reform proposals directly to the pope.

Cardinal Tomasi met with Pope Francis privately on Saturday and Fr. ​​Gianfranco Ghirlanda, SJ, the canon lawyer who helped him draw up a draft constitution for the Order. The Order of Malta is both a Catholic religious order and a sovereign entity in international law.

In his Sunday email to senior knights, Cardinal Tomasi informed them that Francis, to whom he referred using the informal “Il Papa,” had decided to assume direct control of the reforming process.

“He wants to meet the Mixed Working Group with some members representing the Professed, the Government of the Order, the Procurators of the Priories and the Presidents of the Associations, to present to him concrete reform projects,” Tomasi wrote. And “therefore [has] decided to suspend all other activities until this meeting is takes place, following which he will make a final decision.”

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The cardinal explained that the pope had suspended scheduled meetings of a working group of representatives from the Order and the Vatican and discussions of the knights’ own internal steering committee on constitutional reform.

Cardinal Tomasi added that he would ask Boeselager to propose seven or eight knights, including the Lieutenant of the Grand Master — presently the most senior figure in the Order — to represent the knights before the pope.

“Any other activity before the meeting with the Pope will be considered an act of disobedience to the Holy Father,” Tomasi wrote.

His note has prompted speculation among some senior leaders within the Order that discussion of proposed constitutional reforms among the knights themselves, ahead of the meeting with Francis, could be treated as a violation of religious vows or promises of obedience.

Boeselager’s Monday letter to the Order’s leadership did not explicitly reference Tomasi’s email of the previous day; Boeselager wrote that he was “particularly delighted” that the pope had decided to hear proposals from both the knights’ leadership and from Cardinal Tomasi’s team directly “in the near future.”

“We understand from H. Em. Cardinal Tomasi that there shall be for the time being no further meetings between the Order of Malta and the Special Delegate and his working group.”

Tomasi’s apparent prohibition of “any other activity” before a papal audience notwithstanding, Boeselager said that preparations of “concrete proposals” for the Order’s reform for presentation to the pope would be handled by the chairman and vice-chairman of the knights’ constitutional steering committee, Marwan Sehnaoui and Peter Szabadhegy.

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“From an internal organizational perspective and to avoid any conflicting messages with respect to the Order’s official positions during this delicate period, all internal and external communications with regard to the Constitutional Reform will go through Marwan and Peter until further notice,” said the Grand Chancellor.

Pope Francis’s decision to assume personal responsibility for deciding the direction of future reforms for the Order follows a crisis in the relations between the Order’s government and Cardinal Tomasi in recent weeks.

Central to the public dispute between the Order’s Grand Magistry and Tomasi’s team stands the circulation of a draft constitution for the Order making it an explicit “subject” of the Holy See. The draft comes despite repeated promises from Tomasi and the Vatican that there was no intention to undermine the Order’s sovereign status in international law.

(with files from The Pillar)

Compiled by Saju Hasmukh

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