The removal of Cardinal Angelo Becciu left the post of Special Delegate of the Holy See to the Order of Malta vacant: on November 1, 2020, Pope Francis entrusted this task to Cardinal Elect Silvano Tomasi. For several years, major dissensions have arisen between the Vatican and a notable section of the knights.
The waltz of the ‘porporati’: this could be the title of the last chapter of the soap opera about the Knights of Malta. Indeed, since 2017, no less than three cardinals have succeeded each other to represent the sovereign pontiff in one of the most prestigious orders of chivalry.
On April 29, 2017, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke was abruptly removed by Pope Francis, after only two and a half years as the protective cardinal with the Order. The Pope thus sharply resolved the conflict between him and Fra Matthew Festing, then Grand Master of the Order, with whom the high American prelate had sided.
He was replaced by the Deputy Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, with a title created for the occasion: Special Delegate of the Holy See. He, who was then one of the most powerful men in the Curia, set to work on the modernization of the Order in accordance with the wishes of Pope Francis, but rejected by some of the knights.
But, in September 2020, it was the turn of Cardinal Becciu, who had meanwhile become prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, to be removed from office by the Argentine pontiff, amid financial scandals within the Secretariate of State.
Finally, as hinted by FSSPX.News in an article on the new cardinals, the Holy Father appointed Cardinal-elect Silvano Maria Tomasi, as special delegate to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, on All Saints Day.
His task will be to “collaborate for the greater good of the Order with Fra Ruy Gonçalo do Valle Peixoto of Villas Boas, Acting Lieutenant and Grand Commander,” currently at the head of the Order, as reported by Vatican News.
The future Cardinal Silvano Tomasi was ordained a priest in 1965. He spent his entire career in diplomacy. The former nuncio’s mission will be to alleviate the crisis between the Holy See and the Order of Malta.
The Management of a Latent Crisis
Two elements have been the source of serious dissension for several years within the Order or between some of its members and Pope Francis.
First, economic and financial interests, the management of which remains conflicted. Then the question of revising the Order’s constitutions, wanted by the Vatican but dreaded by many members, who fear a dilution of their very identity.
The rapid appointment of Mgr. Tomasi is no doubt due to the future election of the Grand Master, which is due to take place on November 8. It will be preceded by the meeting of the full Council of State of the Order.
The holding of the election on that date has, however, been challenged by a letter sent to the new delegate, a letter published by Il Messagero on November 3rd. It is co-signed by several members, including the ousted Grand Master Matthew Festing.
The signatories argue that the number of religious capitulators will be insufficient - due to travel difficulties related to the health crisis - to elect the Grand Master, himself a religious in the Order, which also includes lay members.
This challenge illustrates well the struggle between a “religious” fringe, opposed to the transformations that would make the Order lose its character, and the opposing fringe that tends towards a more “secular” organization. The future cardinal will have use all his diplomacy to succeed in this mission.