.- Following public declarations from the outgoing secretary general of Caritas that could cause serious damage to the âprestigeâ 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 âfor today's new challenges we need someone else,â explained Cardinal Robert Sarah of the Pontifical Council âCor Unumâ on Feb. 22. A key issue at this point is to focus on the âCatholic identityâ of the organization, he said.
Cor Unum supervises the activities of Caritas Internationalis as well as many other charitable activities worldwide.
The council's âsecond-in-command,â 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, âit was considered opportune to seek another profile for the next four years,â said Msgr. Dal Toso.
âIn no way was this meant to take from the work accomplished by Mrs. Knight,â he asserted.
Approval is granted by the Holy See âto 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,â said Msgr. Dal Toso.
âThe next four years envisage Caritas Internationalis engaged in important themes concerning its mission, including the revision of its statutes and internal reform,â 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 âminimalâ level of contact from upper-level Vatican officials and that âinformation flow tends to be one-wayâ--from the Church hierarchy to Caritas. She asked, âdoes the Holy See actually know what Caritas is doing?â
Knight claimed a disconnect with âwhat it means to be in international development and humanitarian aid.â She suggested that the Vatican works too slowly for the high-speed environment and asked, âgiven 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?â
With a greater focus on evangelization, the outgoing secretary general said that some member organizations âmight want to distance themselves from Caritas.â
âThat could seriously damage our confederation,â she said.
Msgr. Dal Toso responded that for Caritas, âlooking towards the futureâ should mean not being afraid of a renewal of the âvarious responsibilities and the approval of the new statutes through a wider consensus.â
This work, he said, means engaging in âauthentic dialogue with the opportune bodies.â
âOn the other hand,â he said, âher declarations on the lack of communion with the Holy See might seriously damage the prestige of Caritas Internationalis, especially among the faithful.â
In terms of Knight's method, he said, using the media to discuss questions ârelated to matters of the governance of Caritas Internationalis does not seem to me the best way to treat the various positions.
âThis is one-way communication â not dialogue,â 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.
âThe channels for discussion are not lacking, nor our willingness to dialogue, as Caritas Internationalis knows very well.â