VATICAN CITY — The future of the Order of Malta is in the hands of Pope Francis. After a meeting with senior members on February 26, the pope will take time to reflect on the renewal proposals and ultimately decide on a path of reform.
Cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi, pontifical delegate to the organization, reported on the meeting in a letter to the confreres of the order.
Cardinal Tomasi underlined that “we have explained to the Holy Father that the reform under study maintains and better frames the order as a lay religious order and at the same time consents to the continuation of its charitable, diplomatic and humanitarian aid for ‘our lords the sick’”. ‘ and in the service of the Church.
The Italian cardinal added that the pope had “decided to continue listening to us and granted us a new hearing. After the meetings, the pope will decide on the projects presented to him.
Also present at the pontifical meeting was Fra’ Marco Luzzago, Lieutenant of the Grand Master, members of Cardinal Tomasi’s task force for reform and a delegation representing members of the order.
In a February 27 press release, the millennial institution stressed that “the objective of the meeting was the reform of the Order of Malta”.
He said that “in a letter sent to the leaders of the Order of Malta worldwide, Marwan Sehnaoui, chairman of the steering committee of the constitutional reform process, expressed his gratitude to ‘His Holiness for devoting two hours of his valuable time to the Order of Malta.'”
Sehnaoui said, “The Holy Father began and ended the audience by declaring that he himself had taken the final decision on the critical issues concerning the constitutional reform of the order.”
“Pope Francis listened carefully to the presentations and interventions from both sides. After an exchange of views, the Holy Father declared that there was no urgency to take a final decision. His Holiness also said he wanted to gather and review more information and would likely bring in another audience.
These statements require careful reading. First of all, by explaining that the diplomatic and humanitarian work of the order will not be affected by the reform, Cardinal Tomasi implicitly addressed a criticism raised after the circulation of a draft reform text, which qualified the Order of Malta of “subject to the Holy See”. This raised concerns that the new statutes would dilute the order’s sovereignty.
Although it has no actual territory, the order has the characteristics of sovereignty, such as its own official currency, postage stamps, and license plates. It maintains diplomatic relations with more than 100 states and permanent observer status with the United Nations. He also oversees a thriving humanitarian network currently providing aid to refugees fleeing Ukraine.
Speaking to the National Catholic Register on January 23, Cardinal Tomasi pointed out that in a later draft, the order was no longer described as subject to the Holy See.
“We didn’t keep that phrase,” he said, “and it won’t be in the text of the constitution that we’re going to circulate.”
He continued: “In a letter to the order, I said that when we had finished the work under the constitution, the government and the task force of the special delegate, we would send the text to the ‘fras’ – the religious – to the presidents of the associations, to the sovereign council and to the members of the government so that we have the opinions and the objections of each one – if there were aspects of the constitution or the text which were not acceptable or considered reprehensible.
The most important reform is ultimately that of the fras, known as first class knights. Only first-class knights from a family of four quarters of the nobility can be elected Grand Master, religious superior and sovereign of the order. This arrangement means that fewer than 40 people in the order can be considered for the role.
Pope Francis resumed the reform process after fierce debate within the order.
The working group responsible for drafting the new statutes was made up of canon law expert Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, Msgr. Brian Ferme, Secretary of the Vatican Council for the Economy, Maurizio Tagliaferri, Federico Marti and Gualtiero Ventura.
The group was later expanded with the addition of some senior members of the order, including Grand Chancellor Albrecht von Boeselager. But Boeselager announced in January that he was leaving the extended group. Sehnaoui, president of the Lebanese association of the order, was named to take the place of Boeselager, assisted by Péter Szabadhegÿ.
But Cardinal Tomasi refused to recognize Sehnaoui’s appointment, so he was unable to attend the two-day meeting to discuss the draft text.
It is therefore particularly significant that Sehnaoui was included in the group that met the pope on February 26. Sehnaoui’s presence could be seen as a gesture of detente.
Cardinal Tomasi sent a letter to the knights after a private meeting with the pope on January 29, following the two-day reform meeting, held on January 25-26.
The cardinal said that “the pope has decided that he wants to meet the mixed working group with some members representing the professed, the government of the order, the procurators of the priories and the presidents of the associations, to present concrete projects to it. of reform. .”
Thus, wrote Cardinal Tomasi, “the Holy Father has therefore decided to suspend all other activities until this meeting takes place, after which he will make a final decision.”
“Therefore, the meeting of the joint working group of February 22 and 23 is suspended, and the meetings of the steering committee chaired by President Marwan Sehnaoui are also suspended.”
Cardinal Tomasi stressed that “any other activity before the meeting with the pope will be considered an act of disobedience to the Holy Father.”
It was a particularly harsh statement that indicated that the pope would take responsibility for the process.
Knights who attended the papal meeting told CNA that “they had a positive feeling” and that the pope “listened carefully to their issues.”
Members of the order must now wait to see what the Pope decides. It will eventually become clear if he has chosen to treat the order primarily as a religious order or if he will also consider the vast humanitarian network overseen by this territorially sovereign entity.