Newly Elected Grand Master of Knights of Malta Says Order’s Mission ‘Apolitical’

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by Christine Niles  •  •  May 4, 2017   

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ROME ( - The new Grand Master of the embattled Knights of Malta, Fra' Giacomo Dalla Torre, is clarifying the history and mission of the order he's been elected to lead.

"The Order of Malta has a history of almost a thousand years," he told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, in a May 4 interview. "It was born in the Holy Land as a hospitaller order and over time, even in moments of great difficulty, it has never forgotten its mission: to help the poor, the sick, the excluded, in short, anyone living in need, without distinction of origin or religion."

 For us, languages, cultures and traditions are an enrichment, not a threat.
Fra' Dalla Torre at swearing-in ceremony

Dalla Torre emphasized the "neutral and apolitical" nature of the Sovereign Military Order. "It does not act on the basis of political or economic agendas," he clarified, "and that is our real strength, allowing us to work and be greeted by various communities, including in critical areas."

He cited the Order's presence in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Bethlehem, among other strife-ridden areas.

In Lebanon, some medical and welfare projects are managed in close collaboration with the Shiite and Sunni communities: a beautiful example of collaboration between different confessions. In Bethlehem, our Holy Family Hospital gives birth every year over three thousand children. In Germany we have about 150 service centers for migrants. For us, languages, cultures and traditions are an enrichment, not a threat.

Three months after the resignation of Grand Master Fra' Matthew Festing, who stepped down January 24 at the request of Pope Francis, voting members of the Order met in a closed-door session over the weekend to vote for an interim leader. The temporary nature of the position was first brought up by the interim Grand Chancellor, Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein, who had sent an email to members several days earlier recommending that the newly elected leader only serve for a period of one year, during which he would implement reforms proposed by the German Association of the Knights.

Dalla Torre's temporary position raises the possibility next year that Festing could be re-elected — one of the hopes of the orthodox wing of the Order, which reports claim is at war with the heterodox faction, led by the Germans.

The order has been wracked by internal struggles over leadership involving Vatican intrigue and financial misdeeds, revealed by a recently leaked internal document showing Albrecht von Boeselager, the recently reinstated Grand Chancellor caught in a condom distribution scandal, actively conspiring to depose Festing, who stood in the way of an unethical financial deal that would've financially enriched von Boeselager and the Vatican.

Von Boeselager is supported by the German faction, which, according to the internal document, wants to reshape the Order into a "secularized NGO." Among the wideranging reforms proposed by the German faction are the power to impeach the Grand Master as well as diminish his overall authority, while increasing the power of the Grand Chancellor. The Germans are also hoping to erase the requirement to be a professed religious to hold leadership positions, including that of Grand Master.

One of the most important tasks of Fra 'Giacomo Dalla Torre in the year of its mandate will be to work for the reform process.

The Order of Malta's official statement on Dalla Torre's election makes clear it expects him to work with leadership to implement reforms: "One of the most important tasks of Fra 'Giacomo Dalla Torre in the year of its mandate will be to work for the reform process of the Constitution and the Code of the Order of Malta."

It continues, "The recent crisis has revealed some weaknesses in the control and balance of governance systems: the reform will take this into account."


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