That decision came after Festing himself had compelled the resignation of Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager Boeselager in 2016, after it became known that an aid project of the order in Myanmar had distributed thousands of condoms. Boselager insisted that he had not known about the distribution of condoms, and that he had put a stop to it as soon as he became aware.
In 2017, Boeselager was reinstated as Grand Chancellor, and Becciu was appointed as the pope's personal delegate to oversee the order's reform, effectively supplanting the role of the order's Cardinal Patron, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who remains in post only nominally.
As part of its reform, the Order of Malta is considering changes to the office of Grand Master itself, and the role of the first 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 told CNA in an interview on Oct. 23.
"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 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.
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.
Today the Order of Malta, with its 13,500 members, 80,000 volunteers, and its staff of 42,000 professionals, has a mission of witnessing the faith and serving the poor and the sick. The Order manages hospitals, medical centers, clinics, institutions for the elderly and disabled, centers for the terminally ill, volunteer corps, and has a relief agency, Malteser International.
The Order of Malta has bilateral diplomatic relations with 110 states, official relations with six other states, ambassadorial relations with the European Union and is a permanent observer to the United Nations and its specialized agencies.
Since 1834 the seat of the Government of the Sovereign Order of Malta has been in Rome, where it has guarantees of extraterritoriality. As the Lieutenant of the Grand Master Luzzago will reside in the Magistral Palace in Rome.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.