The First Class consists of the Knights of Justice or Professed Knights, as well as Professed Conventual Chaplains. The Knights of this class take the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They are defined as religious but not required to live in community. They also benefit from a dispense of their vows of poverty, including the recently Profess consecrated by Cardinal Tomasi.
The Second Class is composed of Knights and Dames in Obedience, who promise to obey their superiors and strive for Christian perfection in the spirit of the order.
The Third Class comprises lay members who make neither vows nor promises but are committed to living a fully Catholic life according to the order’s principles.
Only First Class knights who descend from a family of four quarters of nobility are eligible to be elected as the Grand Master, the order’s religious superior and sovereign. This provision means that fewer than 40 people in the order can be considered for the position.
The Grand Master oversees the order with the help of a body called the Sovereign Council, whose members are elected for five-year terms by the order’s General Chapter.
Members of the Sovereign Council include the influential figure of the Grand Chancellor, who oversees the order’s 133 diplomatic missions, and the Grand Hospitaller, responsible for the order’s extensive humanitarian initiatives.
The order has three different types of national institutions spread around the world: six grand priories, six sub-priories, and 48 local associations.
Those do all the works, which have been blossoming over the years under the management of knights of the second and third Class, where all the professional talents are available. The first class comprises less than 40 members, with a majority above 70 years of age. Whereas the second and third class amount to 13,500 Members.
Cardinal Tomasi directly intervened with the Grand Priories and nominated new members and heads of the Grand Priories, which normally are in fact elected.
In a letter dated July 25, 2022, the Papal delegate said that the extraordinary situation of the governance of the priories had “come to an end,” and that the current “presence of professed knights with solemn vows” would allow “to return to fully live the religious charism of the order.”
Tomasi also wrote that Professed Knights, in several meetings, confirmed to be “fully available” to take the commitment of running the grand priories.
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The papal delegate then went on and appointed the head and members of the Grand Priories of England, Rome, Naples and Sicily, Bohemia and Austria.
Cardinal Tomasi letter also required the new Grand Priories to establish — by the end of September — their assembly to enable elections.
The Papal delegate letter shows a strong will to bring forward the reforms as planned, mostly by him and his working team, as no agreement has been reached on a draft with the elected bodies of the order.
Cardinal-designate Gianfranco Ghirlanda SJ has been working on the draft of the new constitution along with Tomasi. Pope Francis received the two in a private audience on June 11.
The Jesuit maintains that authority in the Order of Malta derives from religious consecration. This idea is valid only if the order is considered primarily as a spiritual body. The emphasis on the order’s religious character could arguably jeopardize its sovereignty, as it would be controlled by the head of another state, i.e., the Vatican City State. Hence vastly diminishing the efficiency of its works on the ground.
The actions undertaken so far, both by the Pope and Tomasi, show that Ghirlanda’s line has been widely considered when it comes to overhauling the Constitution of the Order of Malta.