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Knights of Malta Grand Master who healed rift with Vatican dies

ROME (Reuters) - Giacomo Dalla Torre, the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta who steered the global Catholic chivalric order and charity to reconciliation with the Vatican after a period of conflict, died on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis meets Fra' Giacomo dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta during a private audience at the Vatican, June 22, 2018. Alberto Pizzoli/pool via Reuters/File Photo

The Knights said Dalla Torre, 75, had been ill for several months.

He was elected interim leader in 2017 following the abrupt resignation of Matthew Festing, whose final months of governance were marred by a dispute with the Vatican over the running of the group.

The group’s Grand Masters usually rule for life and Festing, a Briton, was the first in several centuries to step down.

The conflict laid bare tensions between a reformist Pope, Francis, and his conservative critics, led by American Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Knights’ chaplain.

After the Burke faction lost an internal power struggle, Dalla Torre reconciled the group with the Vatican and began a process of reform.

Dalla Torre was the 80th grand master of the group, whose formal name is Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta.

It was founded in Jerusalem nearly 1,000 years ago to provide medical aid for pilgrims in the Holy Land.

It now has a multi-million dollar budget, 13,500 members, 80,000 volunteers and 42,000 medical staff running refugee camps, drug treatment centres, disaster relief programs and clinics around the world.

Since the upheavals that led to Festing’s resignation, the order - which is a sovereign entity and has bilateral diplomatic relations with 110 states - has been working on a new constitution.

Reformers, backed by the Vatican, want to revamp its constitution to make its government more transparent and better able to respond to the massive growth it has seen in recent years.

They also want to make it possible for commoners to reach top positions. Under the current monarchical hierarchy, the top Knights are required to have noble lineage. The late Grand Master had the rank of prince and his full name was Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto.

Under normal conditions, senior members be required to gather in Rome in three months to elect a new grand master but the period likely will be extended because of the coronavirus pandemic, a source in the order said.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by John Stonestreet