Pope Francis replaces Order of Malta governing body, high offices

The Magistral Villa of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in Rome. The Magistral Villa of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in Rome. | Lalupa via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Pope Francis has revoked the titles of the Order of Malta’s four High Offices, established a provisional government, and convened an extraordinary general chapter for January 2023.

The Sept. 3 decree is the latest step in the reform of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, ordered by Pope Francis in 2017.

Among the new mandates, the pope also approved the order’s new constitutional charter and regulations. The changes go into immediate effect.

“After listening and dialoguing with various representatives of the Order, the time has come to complete the renewal process that has been initiated, in fidelity to the original charism,” Francis said in the decree’s preamble.

He said during the reform of the Order of Malta, “many steps have been taken, but just as many impediments and difficulties encountered along the way.”

Francis’ decree revokes the titles of the Order of Malta’s members in the High Offices, giving them to other members and reconstituting the Sovereign Council, which is the government of the order.

To these four, he also appointed an additional nine new members of the Sovereign Council, forming a provisional government.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta has four High Offices: Grand Commander, Grand Chancellor, Grand Hospitaller, and Receiver of the Common Treasure.

The Lieutenant Grand Master of the Order of Malta remains Fra’ John Dunlap, who was appointed by Pope Francis after the sudden death of his predecessor Fra’ Marco Luzzago, in a move which sidestepped the order’s electoral process.

Pope Francis also convoked an Extraordinary General Chapter for Jan. 25, 2023, the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul.

Francis stated that next year’s meeting will be held in compliance with the new regulations and will be prepared by his special delegate Cardinal Silvano Tomasi and Lieutenant Grand Master Fra’ John Dunlap, with assistance from the interim Sovereign Council.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is both a lay religious order of the Catholic Church and a sovereign state subject to international law. In 2017, Pope Francis ordered reforms of both the order’s religious life and its constitution.

Concerns have been raised throughout the reform process that some of Pope Francis’ actions threaten the Order of Malta’s sovereignty.

Pope Francis’ Sept. 3 decree was issued following a meeting with a delegation of the Order of Malta at the Vatican.

The decree also follows crucial meetings of the order held in August.

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