On November 8, 2021, a new episode of the soap opera which, for four years now, has held the Vatican and part of the Catholic universe in suspense will be played behind closed doors: the election of the Grand Master of the Order of Malta, that is, the new head of a state without territory.
At stake: the future of the prestigious Order of Malta, an institution founded in 1048 in Jerusalem, which is subject to sovereign international law, a religious order of the Catholic Church, and a powerful charitable organization.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta - or, more precisely, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Cyprus, Rhodes, and Malta - maintains active diplomatic relations with around 100 countries, and has the status of permanent observer to the United Nations.
The Grand Master is, moreover, the only Head of State in the world to have the rank of Cardinal of the Holy Church, even if he has not participated in the conclave for a long time.
The future head of the Order will have the task of implementing a reform whose lineaments were revealed by Cardinal Silvano Tomasi earlier this year: it consists of “updating the Constitutional Charter and the Code” with the aim of initiating “a process of spiritual renewal.”
For example, on November 8, 2020, the Council of State of the Order was not able to proceed with the election of a grand master, but that of a Lieutenant to the grand master - possessing limited powers and for one year only - for lack of candidates.
It must be said that the selection is tough: only a “professed knight” can become a grand master, elected for life, but the proposed reform should at least remove the criterion which drastically reduces the choice: having a certain number of noble ancestors.
This removal is seen by some as an abandonment, but appears to be more or less necessary for the survival of the Order.
“It will be a complex election, these are delicate times for the Order,” admitted the current Lieutenant of the Order, Fra Carlo d´Ippolito, interviewed on October 25. And he warned: “we must restore rigor and morality in our ranks.”
The Lieutenant sums up in a few chosen words the dilemma currently going through the Knights of Malta: “we must rediscover the humility that knows how to listen, return to the heart of the evangelical message, but nevertheless, we cannot dispense with remaining faithful to ourselves, to our religious tradition of a military aristocracy, because that is what we are.”
Fra Carlo d'Ippolito insists: there is no question of “democratizing” the Order, at the risk of losing its “almost millennial DNA,” but rather of reforming behavior. Will these words succeed in restoring calm, as the future of the Order is played out? The days to come will quickly tell.