CV NEWS FEED // Pope Francis has named a new cardinal as patron of the Order of Malta. The new patron replaces Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was appointed in 2014 but was stripped of everything except his title in 2017.
The Vatican published a press release on June 19, stating that Pope Francis named Jesuit Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda as the new patron of the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta.
Ghirlanda was ordained a priest in 1973 and later became a professor of canon law at several universities, including the Pontifical Gregorian University. He also published several books and over one hundred articles on canon law, and was appointed a cardinal by Pope Francis in August 2022.
The patron of the Order of Malta is generally seen as a ceremonial role, but Ghirlanda’s appointment is significant because it completes Burke’s dismissal from the Order.
Pope Francis drew criticism for appointing Burke in 2014 because he removed Burke from his role as prefect of the Apostolic Signature to do so. The move was widely seen as retaliation for Burke’s orthodox views toward Church doctrine, such as his views on marriage, divorce, and LGBTQ+ inclusion. Francis denied any ulterior motive, simply stating that he thought Burke would be a good leader for the Order.
In late 2016, however, Burke was caught in the middle of a scandal in the Order having to do with Grand Chancellor Baron Albrecht von Boeselager’s involvement in a condom distribution program. Boeselager was head of the Order’s worldwide charitable relief program until 2014, but in 2016, reports from the Lepanto Institute accused the charity of distributing thousands of condoms and oral contraceptives between 2005 and 2014, directly contradicting Church doctrine on sexuality.
The Grand Master at the time, Fra’ Matthew Festing, fired Boeselager and was immediately ordered by Pope Francis to resign in January 2017. Francis also asked Festing to write a letter of resignation. By the pope’s request, Festing included a statement in the letter about Boeselager’s dismissal, saying that he had fired Boeselager because Cardinal Burke, the patron of the Order, pushed for it.
Burke denied any interference with Boeselager’s dismissal, saying:
I simply stated that the person who knowingly permitted the distribution of contraceptives in the Order’s works should take responsibility, and then the Grand Master once again asked the Grand Chancellor to resign, which he refused to do. Then the Grand Master proceeded to his dismissal without my involvement at all. The account of the Grand Master and myself stands.
However, the pope reinstated Boeselager as Grand Chancellor and stripped Burke of everything having to do with the Order, except for his title of patron. Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, and later Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, took over Burke’s responsibilities for the Order.
The Order has continued to be the center of controversy and change, with Pope Francis instituting a new Constitution, Code of the Order, and Sovereign Council in September 2022. Ghirlanda was involved with the drafting of the Order’s new constitution.
Fra’ John Dunlap, a Canadian attorney, legal advisor to the Holy See in regards to the United Nations, and member of the Order of Malta since 1996, was elected the new Prince and Grand Master of the Order earlier this year. Henry Sire, a former Knight who knows Dunlap well, is optimistic that the controversies surrounding the Order are now over.