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Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Malta, Fra’ John DunlapOrder of Malta/Screenshot

ROME (LifeSiteNews) — Members of the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta have today appointed Pope Francis’ former interim head of the order, Fra’ John T. Dunlap, as the new Prince and Grand Master of the Order.

The 66-year-old Canadian was elected by the Order’s Council Complete of State on May 3, during a meeting at the Order’s Magistral Villa in Rome.

The 99 voters, drawn from 18 different countries, reportedly gave Fra’ John an “absolute majority of votes, on the basis of a binding list of three candidates indicated yesterday by the Chapter of Professed.”

Fra’ John was sworn into his new official role by Cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi C.S., the Pope’s special delegate to the Order on the evening of May 3.

Dunlap stated he would undertake the office “with a profound spirit of service and with the solemn promise of a constant commitment.” He spoke of “many challenges” which await the Order, adding how “united in the awareness of our mission of Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum (witnessing the faith, helping the poor), I am sure that we will be able to face them together united and cohesively, in the same spirit that guided Blessed Gerard, founder of the Order over 900 years ago.”

He will now hold the position for a term of 10 years, under the new constitutions implemented by Pope Francis in September 2022. Formerly the office of Grand Master was held for life.

Dunlap’s appointment is notable since he is the first non-aristocratic Grand Master. Dunlap is a lawyer by profession, having discovered a religious vocation while working with AIDS patients in New York.

The Order of Malta is a military, lay religious order as well as a sovereign entity in international law, maintaining diplomatic relations with a number of countries, and consequently holding a permanent observer seat at the United Nations.

The new Grand Master joined the Order in 1996, taking solemn vows as a professed Knight of the Order in 2008. He held the role Chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Names and Emblems and Representative to the Alliance of the Orders of St. John for over a decade.

Shortly after becoming a professed Knight, Fra’ John was elected to the Sovereign Council – the body which assists the Grand Master in governing – for three consecutive five-year terms, beginning in 2009.


His name became more widely known when he was appointed by Pope Francis as the Lieutenant of the Grand Master and interim leader of the Order in June 2022, following the death of then-Grand Master Fra’ Marco Luzzago.

Commenting to LifeSiteNews about the election, Catholic historian, author, and former Knight Henry Sire expressed his hope that Fra’ John, whom he knows well, would restore the Order in its “primarily religious nature.”

“I know Fra’ John Dunlap well, since I had the privilege of living in the rooms immediately neighboring his in the Magistral Palace during the four years that I lived in Rome. Fra’ John was at that time a member of the Sovereign Council, and he was also a highly regarded practicing lawyer in America,” said Sire.

Fra’ John is well qualified to take the Order of Malta on the path of restoring its primarily religious nature, the cause that was dear to the heart of the late Grand Master Matthew Festing.

Fra’ John’s election comes after years of the power struggle waged by Pope Francis’ Vatican against the Order. Some background of this is necessary in order to fully unpack the day’s event.

Order of Malta’s increasingly convoluted relationship with the Holy See

The Knights of Malta have been beset with high-level scandal and corruption for some years. In December 2016, then-Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing dismissed Grand Chancellor Baron Albrecht von Boeselager for his involvement in a program that distributed condoms. As LifeSiteNews reported at the time, Von Boeselager oversaw the distribution of condoms and oral contraceptives while he was Grand Hospitaller, the person in charge of the charitable work of the Order through its international charity Malteser International. He was also at the time a member of Malteser International’s board.

READ: Catholic group releases hard evidence of condom scandal behind Knights of Malta firing

However, Francis and Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin then intervened, with Francis directly ordering Fra’ Matthew to resign in January 2017 after von Boeselager complained to Parolin. Von Boeselager was subsequently reinstated as Grand Chancellor despite strong opposition from within the Order, and declared that Cardinal Raymond Burke was “suspended” as Patron of the Order.

Cardinal Burke, the Patron of the Order since 2014, was then de facto replaced as Francis tasked the now-disgraced Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu as the Holy See’s special delegate to the Order, assuming Burke’s responsibilities.

READ: Cardinal Burke criticizes acting Knights of Malta head for ‘calumny’ against him

Fra’ Giacomo dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto was elected as Festing’s successor on April 29, 2017. The Order’s “takeover” continued, with its new leader banning the use of the traditional liturgy, or the Latin Mass, for liturgies taking place within the Order. Fra’ Giacomo dalla Torre employed phraseology later used by Pope Francis in Traditionis Custodes, and stated he was acting for “the cohesion and communion or the Order of St. John of Jerusalem of which Providence made me Grand Master.”

Further evidence of the Vatican’s wielding of power over the Sovereign Military Order was seen throughout 2022, as the Papal takeover approached completion. Knight of Malta Fra’ Marwan Sehnaoui, the president of the Order’s Lebanese association, was appointed by the Order to serve as the chairman of the steering committee on constitutional reform.

Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, who relaxed Becciu as Papal Delegate to the Order in 2020, repeatedly refused to allow Sehnaoui to attend key meetings. Tomasi prohibited Sehnaoui from attending the two-day session of meetings on the Order’s Constitution, accusing the Knights of appointing a representative without seeking his agreement and accused them of “moving unilaterally.”

READ: Vatican delegate locks out Knights of Malta representative from constitutional committee

Only weeks before, Cardinal Tomasi had promised in writing that “that it was never the intention of this commission, nor of the Holy Father, to undermine the sovereignty of the Order, which will be totally preserved.”

Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre then died in 2020, being succeeded by the Lieutenant to the Grand Master, Fra’ Marco Luzzago. However, when he also died suddenly in June 2022, the Pope moved in to appoint Fra’ John T. Dunlap as Lieutenant to the Grand Master and acting head, without involving the leadership of the Order – a move that was not accounted for in the Constitutions at the time.

Papal coup solidified?

As the increasingly convoluted and messy struggle between the Knights and the Pope continued, Francis moved to gain more power when he issued new constitutions for the Sovereign Order in September 2022. The entire leadership and constitutional structure was overhauled, with Francis implementing a new Sovereign Council and Constitutional Charter. 

Francis also called for a General Chapter to be held in January 2023, which would be pivotal in assessing and implementing the new structuring of the Order.

sovrano consiglio ordine di malta
The current Sovereign Council, following Pope Francis’ changes in 2022.

Weeks after Francis’ intervention, Fra’ Riccardo Paternò di Montecupo – the Order’s Grand Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs and a member of the new Sovereign Council – defended the Pope’s move.  

He informed members that the new charter and code “must be applied and cannot be, either now or at the next Chapter General in January, discussed or even amended.”

Speaking under condition of anonymity to LifeSiteNews last year, a “longstanding member” of the Order commented on the years-long process the Order had undergone. He argued it was being transformed into “another globalist NGO,” stating:

Francis’ has a distinct hatred of hereditary nobility, something shared by many Americans within the order who favor his reforms in order to turn it into essentially another globalist NGO. That is the motive behind removing this requirement for leadership.

The member also highlighted the Latin Mass restrictions the Order’s hierarchy imposed. “In almost a foretaste of Traditiones Custodes, an official letter was sent to members some time prior to this forbidding their official participation in the Traditional Latin Mass.”

“In essence, the Order has become a clearing house for the financial and theological misdeeds and objectives of the Franciscan pontificate whose over 900 year sovereignty is but a memory,” he said.

Ahead of his election, when speaking to journalists in Rome, Dunlap downplayed suggestions that the Pope’s interventions had created confusion or negatively impacted the Order’s work in conflict zones. “Absolutely not,” he replied.

Appointed by Pope Francis as interim leader in 2022, Dunlap might have been expected to be in line with the Pope’s more revolutionary view for the Order. However, Henry Sire suggested otherwise, portraying a more hopeful view for the future of the Order under Dunlap’s leadership. Sire stated:

During the whole of the revolutionary events that began in December 2016 and have continued until now, Fra’ John distinguished himself (and I mean in comparison with other members of the Order’s government) by his sound judgment. One sign of this was that, when the new government of the Order was elected in 2019, Fra’ John was the only candidate not on the Germans’ ‘slate’ who was elected to the Sovereign Council.

He has thus been for the past four years the only member of the Order’s government independent of the German monopoly that was imposed by the coup d’état of 2017 (a monopoly which has of course now been annihilated). Fra’ John is well qualified to take the Order of Malta on the path of restoring its primarily religious nature, the cause that was dear to the heart of the late Grand Master Matthew Festing. I offer my sincerest good wishes to him in his office.