The Sovereign Council of State of the Order of Malta has just elected the 81st Grand Master in its history. Fra’ John Dunlap is the first Canadian to hold this office. He will have, among other things, the delicate mission of ensuring the proper application of the new constitutional charter painfully imposed by Rome.
The 99 Knight Electors, from 18 different countries, met on May 2, 2023 in Rome, in the Magistral Villa, institutional seat of the Sovereign Order of Malta. On the basis of a terna presented by the professed knights, the following day, the name of Fra' John Dunlap collected a majority of the votes.
The chosen one immediately took the road to the St. Mary Aventin Church - also known as St. Mary Priory - in order to take the oath between the hands of Cardinal Silviano Tomasi, special delegate of the sovereign pontiff to the Order.
Born in 1957, an internationally renowned jurist, Fra' Dunlap was elected to the Sovereign Council in 2009 before being appointed Grand Master's Lieutenant by Rome following the sudden death of Fra' Marco Luzzago. He is the first grandmaster born on the North American continent.
The new patron of the knightly order founded in 1048 to help pilgrims to the Holy Land facing the Islamic threat, said he accepted his new charge with a “profound spirit of service, and with the solemn promise of a constant commitment” to the service of the knights.
An election which – it must be admitted – is not really a surprise: the new grand master has indeed sufficiently shown his loyalty to the Vatican, consistently supporting the reform efforts piloted directly, and often unceremoniously, from St. Martha’s House.
A reform whose stated aim is to reaffirm the primacy of the religious character of the Order of Malta, and thus indirectly ensure closer control by the Holy See, which, for some opponents, goes against the independence of an institution which remains a subject of international law.
The controversy is not new, however, since already, in 1953, the problem had been posed by Pope Pius XII, who then recalled the “two aspects” of an Order “sovereign on the one hand and religious on the other,” specifying in passing that these two dimensions were “intimately linked to each other.”
A reference that Pope Francis readily quotes in his decree of September 3, 2022, and which he concludes with the clear reaffirmation of the primacy of the “religious” character of the Order, and therefore of its dependence on the Holy See.
It remains for Fra’ Dunlap to continue the work of the pacification of his Order in “the observance of the faith and the service of the poor,” two concerns at the heart of one of the last vestiges of medieval Christianity.