Skip to content

Order of Malta sovereignty will be ‘totally preserved,’ Tomasi promises

Cardinal Silvano Tomasi has told the leadership of the Order of Malta that the order’s sovereignty will be “totally preserved” in an eventual new constitution for the knights. 

The cardinal, who is Pope Francis’ special delegate charged with overseeing its reform, issued a letter Thursday, after senior knights objected to a draft constitution, drawn up under Tomasi, which would make the order an explicit “subject” of the Holy See, and jeopardize its status in international law.

Cardinal Silvano M. Tomasi Photo: Pierre Albouy/Order of Malta


In the Jan. 20 letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Pillar, Tomasi said that he was “amazed” by the amount of feedback he had received on the Vatican’s draft, which he had not intended to be circulated widely among the knights. 

The existence of the draft, and its content, were first reported by The Pillar, and subsequently reported on by other media outlets, prompting pushback on the Vatican’s plans.

Cardinal Tomasi said circulation of the draft by leaders within the order was a “questionable procedure” which had resulted in a “unilateral” departure from a planned reform procedure and had created “confrontation and debate.” 

“This is a questionable procedure which cannot be shared by me and the [constitutional reform] Commission,” Tomasi said.

But, acknowledging the widespread criticism of the Vatican draft and the opposition to its plans to make the order a subject of the Holy See, Tomasi told the order’s leadership that he “would also like to reassure the Order as a whole, that it was never the intention of this commission, nor of the Holy Father, to undermine the sovereignty of the Order, which will be totally preserved.”

Tomasi confirmed that the constitutional reform commission, which includes representatives from both the Vatican and Order of Malta, would meet for a two day session on Jan. 25 and that “pending that meeting” he is “working with the commission to eventually revise some articles of the current draft of the constitutional charter.”

Tomasi’s letter is the most recent in a string of correspondence circulating among the order’s leadership in recent weeks, beginning with the circulation of the Vatican’s draft constitution earlier this month. 

That draft would define the order’s legal status as “subject to the Holy See, which also recognises and protects it as an entity of international law,” and strip the knights of their diplomatic representation at the Holy See.

The proposed changes are significant because the order’s sovereignty in international law allows it to issue its own passports, and maintain bilateral diplomatic relations with more than 100 countries — both of which assist in its global humanitarian and medical missions. The order also has permanent observer status at the United Nations - the same kind of membership and recognition as the Holy See. 

That status, and international recognition of the Order of Malta as a sovereign subject of international law, would be called into question if the order’s own governing constitution defines it as the subject of another power.

On the day that details of the Vatican draft were published, Tomasi wrote to the knights’ senior leadership, blaming the president of the order’s German association for leaking the constitutional text, insisting that the draft was only “provisional,” and telling the knights to “refrain from any evaluation of a text that is still in the process of final formulation.”

That letter did not, however, quell opposition to the draft, or slow the arrival of negative feedback on the text from the order’s membership and leaders. 

On Jan. 19, the order’s Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, wrote to the knights’ central leadership, diplomatic corps, and the heads of its national associations, to warn that the constitutional reform process and the Vatican’s draft text “create significant challenges for our Order, and I would have serious difficulties to accept them in good conscience.”

“This process, plus the contents of the draft, while changing long-established and judicially tested norms of the government of our Order, constitute a hazard to its long held sovereignty,” said Boeslager. “This is not in accordance with the confirmations given to us by [Tomasi] that the Holy Father does not wish to put our sovereignty at risk.”

Subscribe now

The Grand Chancellor also said that he “would normally use conventional channels between sovereign entities to respectfully voice this objection, but that avenue has been closed to me,” and announced he was stepping back from the constitutional reform working group in favor of the president of the order’s Lebanese association. 

In an apparently pointed response to Boeselager, Tomasi said on Thursday that he is “amazed that comments and declarations on the current draft continue to arrive from senior members of the Order.”

“The process of drawing up this draft, was always conducted by the commission and by myself, with the utmost spirit of collaboration, so much so that the next meeting at the end of January had already been scheduled in December, and then, at the request of the Grand Chancellor, rescheduled [for] the beginning of January, and finally rescheduled - again at his request - [for] 25 and 26 January.”

“All this, I would like to clarify, to avoid any representation of the facts from which it may emerge that on my part and on the part of the commission, there was an uncooperative spirit.”

Tomasi ended his letter by saying that after a revised draft was produced following the Jan. 25 meeting, he would be willing to accept feedback “with availability and attention,” before convening a Chapter General to adopt a final version.

Share The Pillar

Comments 1