Key among the proposed reforms are changes to the office of Grand Master itself, and the role of the 1st degree of professed knights – those who make perpetual religious vows – in the governance of the order, as opposed to the second and third degrees, who do not.
“The old Grand Master had named a small commission of experts on canon law to make proposals for changes which are necessary to the order’s constitution and code,” Boeselager said.
“In early 2018, we organized an international seminar to collect different ideas for the reform of the order, we had working groups on different topics, these presented to the seminar which made recommendations to the specialist commission as well.”
But, Boeselager said, “regarding the professed, the Holy Father has demanded especially that the regulations dealing with the first class of the order are revisited.”
He noted to CNA that the order’s current constitution and code, while revised in 1997, substantially date back to 1961, before Vatican Council II. “All the new elements which came in canon law regarding religious life [since the council] have not yet made it into the constitution of the order.”
Reform of the professed religious is a sensitive issue for the order, since it is the knights of the first degree who form the Council Complete of State and are eligible to serve as Grand Master and other senior governing roles.
Changing the nature and function of the order’s religious life is, Boeselager conceded, inseparable from reforming its governance. “These are two sides of the same coin,” he said.
After the 2018 seminar, a draft of a new constitution was prepared and sent to Cardinal Becciu to be presented to the pope. That process, Boeselager said, is now on hold until there is a new Grand Master and papal delegate.
The most contentious aspect of reform concerns the role of professed religious in the governance of the order. The professed, first degree knights number fewer than 50, and are advancing in age as a group. Some voices in the order favor allowing other members from different ranks to assume more duties, in order to secure the order’s future.
Another possible reform under discussion is the abolition of a requirement that certain high offices in the order be held only by knights of noble descent, in keeping with the order’s tradition of drawing membership from the ranks of European nobility. Today, the majority of members of the order, albeit those of the lower degree, do not come from noble families, or even countries with an aristocracy.
“There is great consensus that the requirement of nobility for the Grand Master should be abolished,” Boeselager said, noting that the order’s transition away from its strictly aristocratic history was part of its evolving character.
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“How the order deals with the nobility in its history shows how we adapt in steps, not in revolution,” pointing to a 1997 reforms which opened the second class of knights to non-nobles.
However, despite apparent consensus around opening up the role of Grand Master, Boeselager was more hesitant about similar reforms for other offices, including his own, at least in the immediate term.
“I think there will be changes,” he said, “but, without specifying certain offices, perhaps there will be a quorum for noble members, but this is under discussion.”
Discussion on the direction of reform remains a tense topic within the order, especially among the professed knights of the first class. In September, 25 of the most senior professed knights circulated a letter to the order’s leadership and the Holy See, which objected to the direction of the proposed reforms. The knights said they felt they were being marginalized from the process and the governance of the order.
“The future of the first class is of great concern,” Boeselager said. “It is not a question of removing them from leading offices, it is a question of having enough to fill the offices reserved to them.”
Boeselager noted that many priories – national and regional branches of the order – were in special administrative measures because of a lack of professed members to fill leadership roles.