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Knights (Order) of Malta

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Definition:   A sovereign and religious Catholic institution whose purpose is to defend the Catholic faith and to provide assistance to the poor. The head (Grand Master) of the organization is appointed by the pope, and is given the rank of cardinal in the Church. He has the title “Most Eminent Highness.” The group is based on the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (which offered hospitality to pilgrims and crusaders after the conquest of  Jerusalem in 1050) and their successor religious orders. The organization is headquartered in Rome, and has diplomatic relations with 103 countries, and is a member of the United Nations. Membership into the order is by invitation only, and there are three classes. The first class (Knights of Justice) enters into vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The second class (Knights and Dames of Obedience) makes a promise of obedience to the Order. The third class, which constitutes by far the largest portion of the order, agree to live by the principles of the order.

Discussion: The group claims to be non-political and neutral, yet engages in diplomatic relations and offers to act as mediators between countries. For a religious order (whose members must submit unconditionally to the papacy) to be permitted such an arrangement is quite remarkable. The Order is in reality another arm of the powerful government of the Holy See. The group encourages Catholic elitism.

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