The Order of Malta have elected Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto as their new Grand Master.
A Roman aristocrat, Fra' Giacomo, who becomes the 80th Grand Master, has a good relationship with the the Holy See and his election is a decisive move away from an era which saw some knights’ enter into a public battle with Pope Francis.
Fra’ Giacomo, 73, was chosen as an interim leader last year following the resignation of Fra’ Matthew Festing with the Pope telling the English former Grand Master he wanted to reform the order.
Encouraged by the order’s patron and Holy See envoy to the knights Cardinal Raymond Burke, Fra’ Matthew sparked a row with the Pope by sacking on his most senior aides, Albrecht von Boeselager, for allegedly allowing the distribution of condoms in some of the order’s development projects.
When dismissing von Boeselager Fra’ Matthew - with Cardinal Burke at his side - incorrectly informed his Grand Chancellor that the Vatican wanted him sacked but the Pope and his most senior official, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, had stated they wanted the matter resolved through dialogue.
In a statement, the order said the new Grand Master will swear his oath of leadership before the Pope’s Special Delegate to the order Archbishop Angelo Becciu - appointed to take on Cardinal Burke’s duties - and senior knights.
“The new Grand Master will be responsible for continuing the reform of the Constitution of the Order of Malta started in 2017, to adapt it to the development that the Order has experienced in recent decades,” the statement explained.
“Currently present in 120 countries around the world with over 2,000 projects in the medical-social field, the Order of Malta has more than 120,000 volunteers and medical staff. The Constitutional Charter and the Code were promulgated in 1961 and partly reformed in 1997.”
Having held academic posts at the Pontifical Urbaniana Institute, Fra’ Giacomo is well-liked inside the Vatican and it is understood he looked after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s cat when the former Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prefect - and later Pope - was away travelling.
A key area of reform is aimed at the professed “first class” knights, who take vows like monks and friars. They make up only around 50 of the 13,500 knights and dames, yet they have more than half of the seats on the order’s governing body, the sovereign council.
They are what constitutes the knights as a religious order while is from their number that the Grand Master is chosen. While Fra’ Matthew had sought to ensure more vocations to this group by waiving the requirement that first class knights had to come from the aristocracy, the Holy See has concerns about formation and the quality of their religious life.
Recruitment to the professed knights is now suspended, pending reforms.
The knights combine being a religious order with serving the poorest people around the world: this includes a global charitable enterprise which is supported by being a sovereign entity. The order has diplomatic relations with 107 states.
In a recent interview with The Tablet, von Boeselager explained that their mission “is expressed in the double motto ‘tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum', to witness, nurture and defend the faith and to serve the needy. These two things are inseparable. We cannot go to the poor without Christ, but we cannot follow Christ without going to the poor,” he said.
The Grand Master is elected for life and is vested with “supreme authorities” inside the order. At the same time he is assisted by a governing council, and one of the reforms currently being examined is how the Grand Master can govern more collegially, particularly on financial decisions. While Fra’ Matthew was good on external relations, there were concerns among senior knights about his governance of the order.
PICTURE: Fra' Giacomo Dalla Torre, left, new Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, and other knights walk in procession at the start of voting earlier this morning (2 May) in Rome Rome May 2. The Knights elected Dalla Torre as their new grand master from among 12 eligible knights to oversee the order for one year. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)