By Jan Bentz
ROME, February 8, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis’ reform of the Knights of Malta could gut the very “heart” of the Order and up-end its 900-year-old constitution.
Members of the Order who spoke to LifeSiteNews under condition of anonymity say such drastic fears have been stoked by the Pope’s unprecedented intervention in the Order in the last month.
Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu as his special delegate to the Knights of Malta and entrusted him the task of reforming the lay Order’s religious branch of professed Knights, called the “First Class,” who take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Members of the Order say the reform could overturn the 900-year-old practice of having a professed Knight of noble lineage at the Order’s helm. Instead, the role of Grand Master could be opened to members of the Order’s non-professed Second or Third Class. It would be conceivable that a change of that nature could also be achieved by a Papal dispensation.
That would allow German nobleman Albrecht von Boesalager, who the Vatican has just reinstated to the Sovereign Council and given even greater power, to run for the post. Or another German noble of the same mindset could be placed in the position.
That a change in the eligibility for Grand Master would be opened up is further supported by the fact that as of now, only 10 other members of the Order would be possible contenders for the post – a majority of them of very old age.
However, the First Class members, called the “Knights of Justice,” have constituted the heart of the Order from its very beginning in the 12th century and have been key to upholding its moral character.
“The professed knights give the Order its unique character as a Catholic lay religious and chivalric community. They are the continuous historical thread that binds us together through 900 years of history and are major bulwark of legitimacy against the claims of false orders who misuse our name for their own purposes,” a Knight, who wishes to remain anonymous, told LifeSiteNews on February 7.
Archbishop Becciu is endowed with an exceptional responsibility: It will be his job to re-establish peace between the Vatican and the Order, and between the internal factions of the Order, namely Boeselager with his supporters – primarily German nobles – and the professed religious knights. One of Becciu’s powers would be to review possible constitution changes according to the intentions of the Pope.