Vatican City, Nov 1, 2020 / 06:38 am (CNA).- 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 Becciu as delegate and appointed Tomasi in his place.
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 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, Tomasi will collaborate with the order’s new Grand Master, who will be chosen in an election in Rome on Nov. 7.
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 Festing himself had compelled the resignation of Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager 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 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.
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 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, 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.