Pope Francis Names Archbishop Tomasi Delegate to Order of Malta

As special delagate to the Order of Malta, Archbishop Tomasi will collaborate with the order’s new Grand Master, who will be chosen in an election in Rome on Nov. 7.

His Excellency Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, was among expert guests who attended the discussion event on human trafficking hosted by the British Ambassador to the Holy See Nigel Baker on March 8, 2012 for International Women's Day.
His Excellency Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, was among expert guests who attended the discussion event on human trafficking hosted by the British Ambassador to the Holy See Nigel Baker on March 8, 2012 for International Women's Day. (photo: UK in Holy See / Wikimedia Commons)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday named Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi his special delegate to the Order of Malta, following the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

In a pontifical letter Nov. 1, Pope Francis said he had accepted the resignation of Cardinal Becciu as delegate and appointed Archbishop Tomasi in his place.

Archbishop Tomasi, 80, will be elevated to cardinal at a consistory on Nov. 28. In 2016, he retired after 13 years as permanent observer to the United Nations Office and Specialized Agencies in Geneva.

Cardinal Becciu had been the pope’s delegate to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta since February 2017, when he was appointed to oversee the nearly one-thousand-year-old order’s “spiritual and moral” renewal as it navigated a period of internal reform.

On Sept. 24, Pope Francis asked Cardinal Becciu to resign as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights of cardinals, following reports alleging he had used millions of euros of Vatican charity funds in speculative and risky investments.

As special delagate to the Order of Malta, Archbishop Tomasi will collaborate with the order’s new Grand Master, who will be chosen in an election in Rome on Nov. 7.

Archbishop Tomasi’s appointment comes at a crucial time for the historic order, which has been in a slow-moving constitutional crisis since Pope Francis compelled the resignation of a previous Grand Master, Fra’ Matthew Festing in 2017.

That decision came after Fra' Festing himself had compelled the resignation of Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager in 2016, after it became known that an aid project of the order in Myanmar had distributed thousands of condoms. Boselager insisted that he had not known about the distribution of condoms, and that he had put a stop to it as soon as he became aware.

In 2017, Boeselager was reinstated as Grand Chancellor, and Cardinal Becciu was appointed as the pope’s personal delegate to oversee the order’s reform, effectively supplanting the role of the order’s Cardinal Patron, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who remains in post only nominally.

Cardinal Becciu was to work with Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre, who was elected to succeed Festing, first on an interim basis and later permanently, as the order moved towards a revision of its governing code and constitution, including a revision of the roles and rights of its three levels of knights from around the world. Dalla Torre died in May.

On Nov. 7, the professed knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta will hold a Council Complete of State, a gathering of representatives from across the order’s provinces and ranks, at which they will elect a new Grand Master.

Boeselager told CNA last month that the “the papal delegate is not part of the structure of the order. He is a representative of the Holy Father, but he is not involved directly in the governance or work of the order.”

Pope Francis said in his Nov. 1 letter to Archbishop Tomasi that he will “enjoy all the powers necessary to decide any questions that may arise for the implementation of the mandate entrusted to you, to receive the oath of the next Grand Master, and you will be my exclusive spokesperson for all that pertains to relations between this Apostolic See and the Order.”

An Italian, Archbishop Tomasi was ordained a priest in 1965 as a member of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Saint Charles Borromeo.

He earned a PhD in sociology from Fordham University in New York City. In the 1970s and '80s he taught sociology in New York and co-founded the Center for Migration Studies.

In 1989, Pope John Paul II named him secretary of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.

He later served as a Vatican diplomat, with posts as apostolic nuncio in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti, before being appointed permanent observer.

The Order of Malta is headed by a Grand Master who oversees the order with the help of a body called the Sovereign Council.

What is the Order of Malta?

The order is unique in that, while it has no territory, it is a sovereign entity under international law – with its own passports, diplomatic relationships, and permanent observer status at the United Nations.