The Pope renews the Knights of Malta

The pontiff has dissolved the order’s leadership, promulgating a new constitution that should make it more democratic

Pope Francis launched an overhaul of the Knights of Malta, a global humanitarian group and major Catholic religious order, disbanding its leadership on Saturday. The Pontiff also issued a new constitution for 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 the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta. Established nearly 1,000 years ago in Jerusalem, once a religious military order, it has grown into a humanitarian group, active around the world and running institutions such as clinics and refugee camps.

Announcing the overhaul, the Pope praised the “generous contribution from Members and Volunteers”, order, which brings together nearly 100,000 volunteers and more than 50,000 healthcare personnel worldwide. At the same time, he recognized the need to “begins a deep spiritual, moral and institutional renewal of the whole Order”.

The democratization of the order is one of the major changes for the institution, with the new constitution eliminating the rule for the Grand Master and top Knights requiring noble descent. The rule had effectively barred any non-Europeans from reaching the top ranks of the order.

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“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 restore unity to 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 leader of the interim government, the Grand Master’s Lieutenant, Canadian John Dunlap, declaring the overhaul demonstrated “the great love that the Pontiff has for our Order.”

“In his careful consideration of the various proposals submitted to him in recent months, the Pope has determined a way forward which promises to secure the future of the Order both as a religious Institute and as a sovereign Entity” , he stated.

The interim government will remain in charge of the order until January 25, when an extraordinary general chapter is due to meet to begin electing the new Grand Master. The last, the order’s 80th Grand Master, Giacomo Dalla Torre, died in April, the position having remained vacant ever since.


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