ROME – Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, an Italian aristocrat who steered the ancient Knights of Malta religious order after an institutional crisis with the Vatican, has died. He was 75.
The order said Dalla Torre died early Wednesday after being diagnosed several months ago with an incurable disease. It was not related to the new coronavirus pandemic.
Dalla Torre was elected prince and grand master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in 2018, taking over after a fraught year that saw the previous grand master challenge Pope Francis in an ideological face-off that he eventually lost.
Dalla Torre knew the Vatican well and quickly managed to mend ties. He was the grandson of the former editor of the Holy See's newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and the brother of the then-president of the Vatican's criminal tribunal.
He had spent his career serving in the Knights’ Italian branches and doing charity work, while working at one of Rome’s pontifical universities.
In a note of condolences Friday, Francis called him a man of “zealous culture and faith” who was dedicated to the “good of the church as well as those who suffer most.”
The Knights of Malta is an ancient lay Catholic religious order that runs hospitals and clinics around the world. It counts 3,500 members and 100,000 staff and volunteers who lend first aid in war zones, natural disasters and conflict areas; members also make regular pilgrimages bringing the sick to Catholic shrines.
The Knights trace their history to the 11th-century Crusades and are known for the aristocratic lineage of their members, their fancy, fringed uniforms, and the big Maltese cross that adorns their liturgical robes. Despite their name, they are based in Rome, where their headquarters has the same status as a foreign embassy.