Vatican defends decision to seek new Caritas chief

Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso and Lesley-Anne Knight
Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso and Lesley-Anne Knight

.- Following public declarations from the outgoing secretary general of Caritas that could cause serious damage to the “prestige” of the institution, the Holy See has confirmed that it is seeking a "new profile" for the international aid agency.

In January, the Vatican's Secretariat of State decided it would not allow Lesley-Anne Knight to run for a second four-year term as secretary general of the Rome-based Caritas Internationalis. Her request for a certificate of approval from the Vatican for official candidacy was declined.

The rare action was taken because “for today's new challenges we need someone else,” explained Cardinal Robert Sarah of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” on Feb. 22. A key issue at this point is to focus on the “Catholic identity” of the organization, he said.

Cor Unum supervises the activities of Caritas Internationalis as well as many other charitable activities worldwide.

The council's “second-in-command,” secretary Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, explained in a March 7 interview that the Caritas confederation entrusts the approval of its top decision-makers to the Holy See in its statutes.

This year, after "much reflection" between the Secretariat of State and Cor Unum, “it was considered opportune to seek another profile for the next four years,” said Msgr. Dal Toso.

“In no way was this meant to take from the work accomplished by Mrs. Knight,” he asserted.

Approval is granted by the Holy See “to provide a necessary instrument in order that those ultimately responsible for an organization may address in the most convenient way those decisions to be taken, for the good of the organization itself,” said Msgr. Dal Toso.

“The next four years envisage Caritas Internationalis engaged in important themes concerning its mission, including the revision of its statutes and internal reform,” he explained.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter published on March 2, Knight suggested that the Holy See was out of touch with Caritas and blasted its plan to modify practices in place in favor of a greater emphasis on evangelization.

She criticized the “minimal” level of contact from upper-level Vatican officials and that “information flow tends to be one-way”--from the Church hierarchy to Caritas. She asked, “does the Holy See actually know what Caritas is doing?”

Knight claimed a disconnect with “what it means to be in international development and humanitarian aid.” She suggested that the Vatican works too slowly for the high-speed environment and asked, “given the wide range of sensitive situations in which we work, how do we express that evangelization in a way that the Holy See is comfortable with?”

With a greater focus on evangelization, the outgoing secretary general said that some member organizations “might want to distance themselves from Caritas.”

“That could seriously damage our confederation,” she said.

Msgr. Dal Toso responded that for Caritas, “looking towards the future” should mean not being afraid of a renewal of the “various responsibilities and the approval of the new statutes through a wider consensus.”

This work, he said, means engaging in “authentic dialogue with the opportune bodies.”

“On the other hand,” he said, “her declarations on the lack of communion with the Holy See might seriously damage the prestige of Caritas Internationalis, especially among the faithful.”

In terms of Knight's method, he said, using the media to discuss questions “related to matters of the governance of Caritas Internationalis does not seem to me the best way to treat the various positions.

“This is one-way communication – not dialogue,” said Msgr. Dal Toso.

He said that channels for communication are in place to offer opinions. The physical proximity of Caritas' headquarters to the Vatican, the presence of Cor Unum representatives at the agency's meetings and the fact that the confederation's president is a cardinal provide opportunities to voice concerns, he explained.

“The channels for discussion are not lacking, nor our willingness to dialogue, as Caritas Internationalis knows very well.”


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