By now I am certain that most of you know that our dear Order is undergoing a process of change. The unusual events of last year have highlighted the need to adjust the constitution of the Order to more properly reflect current times. The Holy Father requested that the Order strengthen the spirituality and moral life of the Order. Further, it is critical that the Order revise the requirements for the position of Grand Master in order to expand the potential pool of candidates. From this seemingly simple base, the leadership of the Order broadened the scope of change to include a review of most of the components of membership and governance.
The 10 working groups were formed in July 2017 and were comprised of representative mix of all members and levels of leadership, approximately 150 strong in all. They completed their intensive work by the end of 2017 and submitted their summaries of recommendations to the Grand Magistry. A Strategic Seminar was called for further discussion and to seek input from a gathering of over 160 members comprised of Professed Knights, Presidents of National Associations, members of Sovereign and Government Council, and some working group representatives. Also present were the Lieutenant of the Grand Master, the Prelate and the Pope’s special delegate. Certainly, it is not possible for me to detail the many discussion points in this update, however, I will do my best to present the spirit and direction along with the highlights of possible reform.
The opening remarks of H.E. Fra Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto provided a good background to the need for reform while H.E. Archbishop Angelo Becciu (the Pope’s special delegate) provided the inspiration to assist us in creating the path for renewal.
Background Considerations; since the last revisions to the Constitution and Code of the Order (1957-1961), predating Vatican II, the Sovereign Order of Malta has grown significantly. Membership has grown from approximately 3,000 members to over 13,000. Humanitarian efforts, diplomatic and multilateral relations have more than tripled. The development of knights and dames in Obedience has grown significantly and with the fall of the iron curtain volunteer and youth activities in Europe have grown to unprecedented levels. Of course, all of this growth and development has made significant strides in the ‘new world’ as the North American membership now represents 25 percent of worldwide membership. The number of National Associations has gone from 15 to 47 today, with three delegations waiting to meet the requirements to be elevated to Association status. The number of professed knights has also improved almost fourfold. Understanding these basics makes it clear that trying to operate under rules that were established more than 50 years ago can lead to many challenging situations. The underlying question then becomes; “What do we need to change to properly execute the mission of the Order?”
Religious and spiritual life; Monsigneur Becciu presented the theological considerations with the theme of renewing the religious life of the Order while adapting to our changing life and society. He introduced the concept of “Creative Faithfulness”, creative in adaptation and faithfulness to the charisms, the source of our existence. He made it very clear that our form must continuously adapt with the ability to perpetuate itself, while vigorously protecting our values. He called us to be brave innovators in the ways that our original mission and values will be expressed, and in ways that will provide transparent witness to the love of God …. To make people wonder about us, ‘why are we so unselfish in service to the sick and the poor?’
For the purposes of the seminar the recommendations of the working groups were further refined into five main topics that resulted from the group work; governance, nobiliary and eligibility, membership, formation and chaplains, and local organizations. All of these were considered under the attributes of transparency, accountability, compliance and safeguarding. The compilation of all work will now go to the leadership of the Order and to Sovereign Council, who will create the action plan and priorities necessary to execute the needed reforms. Certainly, the first and most important priority will be the review of what consecrated life within the Order means, how the profession of vows relates within the context of canon law and the Order’s traditions, and the revision of eligibility requirements for the Grand Master, the high charges and for members of Sovereign Council. Further, making the Chapter General and Council Complete of State more representative given the vast growth of National Associations worldwide is an important reform. Some of the messages throughout the three days were very clear while others were less so. It was clear to me that of high importance to the gathering was the election of our Grand Master for life, the maintenance of our religious nature, opening more senior positions to Dames, broadening the authority of the Receiver of the Common Treasury, financial accountability and budget control, adjusting to allow input from young members, growing youth activities, respecting the tradition of nobility but not allowing it to be a limiting barrier to senior roles and especially for the position of Grand Master, focusing on formation at all levels, strengthening the role of chaplains, and creating guidelines for religious formation amongst the professed that include opportunities for living in community.
A Council Complete of State has been called for May 2-3, 2018 to either elect a Grand Master according to the current constitution or to elect a Lieutenant for one more year as we transition through the constitutional reforms. I am humbled to have been elected by the Presidents to be one of the only 15 votes available to Presidents of National Associations. Please be patient with the flow of information. Many of the topics are very complicated and will need review and advice by canon lawyers. I would also ask that you not allow ‘fake news’ coming from very prejudiced media reporting to taint your judgement of the direction of our Order or the process. There are many moving parts and as you might imagine some forms of personal bias, so it is important for us to pray for those who have received the mission of leading our Order and all who strive to cooperate in the reforms to which we have been called. First and foremost though let us not get distracted from our mission to serve the sick and the poor.
Roman J. Ciecwierz