The debate on the reform of the Order of Malta is entering a crucial phase on Wednesday: Two meetings are scheduled to help shape the future of the unique if troubled Catholic institution.

On one side of the table on Aug. 17 are two key protagonists: Cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi, the Pope's special delegate for the Order of Malta, and Fra 'John Dunlap, Lieutenant of the Grand Master of the Order of Malta. On the other side of the table, they are first facing the Sovereign Council of the Order of Malta — and then the Governing Council.

The latter comes to the meeting with a document that CNA today is publishing in full. The paper was delivered on Aug. 12 to the High Charges of the Order of Malta and caused a harsh reaction from the Lieutenant of the Grand Master.

Before considering the document and further reactions, however, a little background is needed. First of all, why are these meetings today important?

According to the Order of Malta website, "the Sovereign Council is the government of the Order. It comprises the Grand Master, the holders of the four High Offices (Grand Commander, Grand Chancellor, Grand Hospitaller, and Receiver of the Common Treasure), and six other members. Apart from the Grand Master, they are elected by the Chapter General, by a majority of the Knights present".

The Government Council is "the advisory board to the Sovereign Council in charge of studying political, religious, humanitarian assistance, and international issues. It is convened and chaired by the Grand Master. It comprises six Councilors from various geographical regions elected by the Chapter General among Knights in the three Classes of the Order. It meets at least twice a year.

The topic of the discussion will be the debate following the dissemination of a letter sent to Pope Francis by the presidents of various associations linked to the Order of Malta, which claim to represent 90 percent of the works of the Order.

The reform, the associations noted, would compromise their work, which affects, among other things, 80,000 volunteers and 42,000 employees. The reform of the Order of Malta is still under discussion, and it has been argued several times that how the Order of Malta will be represented risks diluting its sovereignty.

Some actions of the Pope have already questioned the sovereignty of the Order. 

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In his latest move, Pope Francis appointed Fra 'John Dunlap as Lieutenant of the Grand Master after the sudden death of his predecessor Fra' Marco Luzzago, thus avoiding the electoral process that should have taken place. 

Before that, Pope Francis had extended the mandate of Fra 'Marco Luzzago himself until the end of the reform process, bypassing the procedures that provided for a new election at the end of the term of the Lieutenant, which lasts one year. 

In addition, Pope Francis has given extensive powers to his delegate, Cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi, effectively taking the reform into his own hands.

Precisely these extensive powers given to Cardinal Tomasi can impact today's meetings. For example, the Cardinal could try to calm the situation but decide to fire the Sovereign Council and make personal appointments.

In fact, on Aug. 16, Fra 'John Dunlap sent a letter to the Grand Priors and Procurator of the Grand Priories, the Regents of the Sub-Priories — the Presidents — of the National Associations.

In the letter, Fra 'Dunlap complained that three sets of draft documents had been sent to the pope but that any had not seen these of those challenging them to the pope. Fra' Dunlap recalled a specific duty of obedience to the pope and underlined the extensive special powers given to Cardinal Tomasi in this reform process.

There is, therefore, a profound fracture within the Order of Malta. Today's discussions will help to understand which path they will take in the future.

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This is the background information on the meetings taking place today.

CNA is publishing the statement of the Government Council, which will be one of the topics of discussion.