Order of Malta opts to elect a Lieutenant of the Grand Master amid constitutional reform

Marco Luzzago Fra’ Marco Luzzago. | Order of Malta.

The Order of Malta elected Fra' Marco Luzzago as the Lieutenant of the Grand Master on Nov. 8. to serve a one year term amid the order's constitutional reform.

Luzzago will lead the nearly 1000-year-old institution until another election will take place next year to select the order's Grand Master, a position that is traditionally held for life.

Founded in Jerusalem in the year 1048, the Sovereign Order of Malta today operates mainly in the field of medical and humanitarian assistance as a primary body of international law and a lay Catholic religious order.

The Order of Malta's elective body, the Council Complete of State, met in Rome at the Magistral Villa on the Aventine Hill Nov. 7-8. Forty-four electors from 16 countries, including Argentina, France, Lebanon, the United States, and Italy, were present for the vote out of the 56 eligible electors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The council decided to elect a Lieutenant of the Grand Master rather than a Grand Master.

As Lieutenant of the Grand Master, Luzzago will serve a term of one year with all of the prerogatives of the Grand Master until the next election. This will allow the Order of Malta to continue its ongoing process of constitutional reforms.

An Italian born in Brescia in 1950, Fra' Marco Luzzago studied medicine for several years at universities in Padua and Parma before he was called to manage his family's properties. He then went on to a career in business in the field of large-scale retail distribution. He is related to Pope Paul VI.

He joined the Order of Malta in 1975 in the Grand Priory of Lombardy and Venice and took solemn religious vows in 2003. He has taken part in the Order of Malta's international pilgrimages to Lourdes and in the national pilgrimages of Assisi and Loreto. Since 2010, he has completely dedicated his life to the Order of Malta, moving to care for one of the order's commanders.

"The Holy Spirit has graciously turned his gaze to me. I thank each one of you for placing your trust in me and for showing by your presence here today a great love and a great dedication to our Order," Luzzago said upon his election.

"For my part, I can only assure you of my maximum commitment to address the challenges that lie ahead of us in the coming months. First of all, the reform of the Constitutional Charter and the Code carried on with such fervour by our late Fra' Giacomo, whom at this moment I remember with emotion."

Luzzago succeeds Grand Master Fra' Giacomo dalla Torre, who died in April. Since his death Fra' Ruy Gonçalo do Valle Peixoto de Villas Boas has led the Order of Malta as interim lieutenant.

He will be sworn in by Cardinal-elect Silvano Maria Tomasi, the special delegate to the Order of Malta. Tomasi was appointed as the special delegate by Pope Francis on Nov. 1 following the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

Luzzago's election comes at a crucial time for the historic order, which has been in a slow-moving constitutional crisis since Pope Francis compelled the resignation of a previous Grand Master, Fra' Matthew Festing in 2017.

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.

More in Europe

"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.

(Story continues below)

"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.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.