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Pope taps lawyer to continue reform of the Order of Malta


Ordre de Malte

Fra’ John T. Dunlap

I.Media - published on 06/14/22

Pope Francis named Fra' John T. Dunlap to lead the international humanitarian religious order.

Canadian-born Fra’ John T. Dunlap has been appointed Lieutenant to the Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta by Pope Francis himself, the Order announced in a statement on June 13, 2022. He takes over the leadership of the Catholic religious order, left vacant after the unexpected death of the previous Lieutenant, Fra’ Marco Luzzago, on June 7.

Pope Francis explained in his letter of appointment that in the face of this “new moment of disarray and uncertainty” – this is the third death of a leader of the Order in three years – he had decided to appoint a new leader directly in order to “accelerate the process of reform” underway. Only the completion of this process, entrusted by the pontiff to his personal delegate, Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, should allow the re-establishment of an “ordinary administration” under the direction of a Grand Master.

Fra’ John T. Dunlap is appointed Lieutenant of the Grand Master and not Grand Master, an interim position provided for in the Order’s constitutions but usually valid for only one year, H.E. Dominique Prince de La Rochefoucauld-Montbel, Grand Hospitaller of the Order, told I.MEDIA. The need to advance the reform of the Order, however, had led to the extension of the mandate of his predecessor Fra’ Marco Luzzago beyond one year, and Fra’ John T. Dunlap should also remain in office “until the reform is completed.”

“It is a question of avoiding that it takes ten years as it was the case in 1997”, explains the member of the High Council. This is not the first time that a pope has chosen to ignore the statutes and appoint the head of the Order of Malta, he said, recalling that this was already necessary in the 19th century.

The Frenchman considers that this appointment was “necessary” because of the lack of candidates who meet the criteria set out in the constitution and the need to move forward with the constitutional reform. In its statement, the Order said it was “grateful” to the pontiff for his “fatherly concern”.

The first professed American member

Fra’ John Dunlap, 65, is to be sworn in at the Church of St. Mary on the Aventine before Cardinal Silvano Tomasi and the Order’s senior staff on June 14, just after the solemn funeral of Fra’ Marco Luzzago. A lawyer by training, Dunlop is a specialist in corporate and immigration law and was for many years the legal adviser to the Holy See in its permanent observer mission to the United Nations in New York.

Admitted to the Order of Malta in 1996, he became the first American member of the Order to take solemn vows in 2008. Since 2009, he has been a member of the Order’s Sovereign Council and served as chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Names and Emblems and representative to the Alliance of the Orders of St. John.

Leading a Tried and True Order

The Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and Malta, known as the “Order of Malta”, elected Fra’ Marco Luzzago in November 2020 to succeed Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempo di Sanguinetto, Grand Master who died on April 29. As the Grand Master’s lieutenant, he was to remain in charge of the Order for only one year but with the same powers as a Grand Master.

Fra’ Marco Luzzago had arrived at the top of the hierarchy in a delicate context, while the Hospitaller Order was shaken by a serious crisis following several scandals revealed in 2016-2018. The ancient Catholic order of chivalry is further plagued by a power struggle between a fringe of the organization that wants to maintain its religious orientation and another that wants to accentuate its secularization and NGO status. Grand Master Matthew Festing (who died in 2021) was removed from office in 2017.

This internal crisis was coupled with a Vatican crisis with the banishment of Cardinal Raymond Burke the same year, who remains Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta while having lost his prerogatives. Pope Francis personally took charge of the Order and sent the then Substitute of the Secretariat of State, Monsignor Angelo Becciu, to revise its Constitution.

After the death of the Grand Master combined with the disgrace of Cardinal Becciu in 2020, the Argentine pontiff appointed a delegate general in the person of Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, with full powers to continue the reform. The implementation of the reform continues to become more complex with this new unexpected death – even though, according to several Vatican sources, the special delegate is also ill.

A global organization

The history of the Order of Malta began in the Holy Land in 1048 with the founding of the religious community of the Hospitallers of St. John. A religious and lay Order of the Catholic Church since 1113 and a subject of international law, the Order maintains diplomatic relations with more than one hundred states, as well as with the European Union, and has permanent observer status at the United Nations.

Present in 120 countries, the Order helps people in need through medical, social and humanitarian activities. On its website, the Order explains that it is composed of more than 13,500 Knights, Dames and Chaplains. Some 80,000 permanent volunteers work alongside them, as well as 42,000 employees, mostly medical personnel.

Human RightsMaltaOrder of MaltaPope Francis
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