Rome (AFP) – The interim leader of the Order of Malta, the world’s oldest chivalric order, was elected Wednesday as Grand Master for life, one year after Pope Francis forced his predecessor to resign following an internal power struggle.
Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, a 74-year-old Italian medieval art expert, was named interim head in April 2017 and tasked with ushering in a period of reform within the order, which is so far yet to materialise.
Fifty seven members were selected to participate in the vote on Dalla Torre’s nomination, including two women, a first in the conservative order’s history.
A centuries-old lay religious mission, the Order of Malta provides humanitarian aid in crisis zones around the world.
It comprises 13,500 members ranked by their noble titles and who are expected to lead an exemplary Christian life while participating in the Order’s charity activities.
The influential mission which was founded in Jerusalem and recognised by the pope in 1113, operates in around 120 countries and is one of the biggest landowners in Italy.
The Grand Master must already be among one of the order’s 56 “professed knights” — the mission’s top tier of membership — and show evidence of sufficiently noble lineage.
A papal delegation had asked the order to envisage a constitutional reform to make the selection process less elitist, but the change has so far not been implemented.
Over the past years bitter infighting between different factions has dogged the mission.
Recently, the order begged its members not to comment publicly on a book, fiercly critical of Pope Francis entitled “The Dictator Pope.”
It was written by a member of the order close to the former Grand Master, Britain’s Matthew Festing, who Pope Francis asked to step down in 2017.