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Austen IvereighMarch 01, 2011

What changes are coming to Caritas Internationalis, the Church’s vast global charity? There are many things still unclear about why Lesley-Anne Knight (pictured), CI’s British secretary-general, has been unexpectedly prevented from applying to renew her term. But one thing is in no doubt: the Curia is planning some radical structural changes, and Dr Knight is seen as an obstacle. 

“The Holy See wants a change in the way it works with Caritas and says this requires a change in the person of the secretary-general,” reads CI’s February 18 statement.

Caritas is an odd hybrid: both NGO and church organism, at once a single body with its HQ in Rome and a highly decentralized operation, a "Confederation", dependent on local bishops’ conferences. No one questions its size or reach. Its 165 federated organizations – known as Catholic Relief Services in the U.S., Cafod in the UK, but mostly going by the name of Caritas -- assist 24m people worldwide, employing some 440,000 people, with a budget of around $5.5bn. When people talk of the Catholic Church being the world’s largest civil-society organisation, it’s often Caritas, rather than the networks of schools and parishes, which springs to mind.

On 15 February the Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, wrote to the bishops’ conferences of the world to explain why the Vatican was not going to renew Dr Knight’s mandate following the CI’s general assembly in May. In the three-page letter, reported by The Tablet last weekend, Cardinal Bertone said Caritas needed a stronger Catholic identity. The next four years, he explained, would need to focus on “harmonizing the theological dimension of Caritas Internationalis … with its role as an organization operating on the international stage”. This would require, he said, greater cooperation with other ecclesial bodies and with Vatican dicasteries that have an “interest” in CI activities. Caritas’s advocacy work, he explained, needs to be better coordinated “in strict cooperation with the Holy See, which is specifically competent in this regard.”

A firmer Catholic identity and tighter bonds with the Vatican? Why not ask Dr Knight to effect these changes?

The head of the Pontifical Council Cor Unam, the Guinean cardinal Robert Sarah, has made clear that her competence is not in question. And Cardinal Bertone in his letter insists that denying her a second term “is in no way to cast doubt on her merits or diminish the appreciation for the services she has already rendered”. Which begs the question of what the problem with her is.

I’ve only met the Zimbabwe-born Dr Knight a couple of times. She radiates intelligence and competence. Colleagues speak of her with great respect. She is sharp and sassy and confident. There are reports that she has drawn the ire of Vatican officials with “occasional blunt criticism about the church bureaucracy”, which sounds like her. But it’s not as if Vatican bureaucracy is above criticism.

Caritas members are appalled. CI’s president, Honduran cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez de Maradiaga, has made clear his “incomprehension” at the decision. The CI bureau -- Cardinal Rodriguez, Knight, the organization's treasurer and seven regional presidents -- met Feb. 5 and asked Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, to discuss the issue. But they had no luck. According to Caritas, its leadership “deeply regrets the decision of the Holy See”.

Dr Knight’s predecessor, Duncan MacLaren, who was secretary-general for two terms (1999-2007), says there is “outrage” in the Confederation, not least because the decision appears to trample on CI’s canonical autonomies. “According to the statutes, a list of candidates must be presented timeously to the Holy See which then rings the secretary of the applicant’s bishops’ conference to ascertain whether the candidate is in good standing with the Church,” he explains on the Australian Jesuit website Eureka Street. The list is then sent to the 165 members of the CI confederation, whose Executive Committee selects its favoured candidate, who is presented to the General Assembly for ratification. “It is completely within the statutory right of the Holy See to refuse even an incumbent candidate,” says MacLaren, “but not to judge how that candidate has fared in his/her job in terms of management”.

In short, the candidate is elected by the members, not appointed by the Holy See. The Vatican’s only role is to ensure that they are in good standing with the local Church. “If Knight was in good standing with the Church four years ago, what has changed?” he asks.

MacLaren’s article suggests longstanding tensions between CI and Cor Unam, the Pope’s organisation for charity. A 2004 letter negotiated with the Holy See, Durante L’Ultima Cena, gives Cor Unum a special role to seguire ad accompagnare the activities of CI. According to MacLaren these words (meaning “to follow and accompany” ) are wrongly translated on the Vatican website as “supervise and guide”, suggesting that Cor Unam has a view of itself as overseeing CI which is not recognized by CI.

MacLaren’s contempt for Cor Unam shines through. Its staff were “not qualified” in Caritas’ work and were “usually silent” at joint meetings. They seemed to regard their role as “inquisitorial not collegial”, he says, recalling how the Vatican charity’s then president, Cardinal Cordes, attended a major CI meeting on Catholic identity for just a few hours before departing to spend three days with the Communion and Liberation movement in Warsaw. He contrasts the poor relationship with Cordes with the highly fruitful one with Diarmuid Martin (now Archbishop of Dublin) when he headed the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, as if to make clear that it’s not with the Vatican per se that CI has had difficulties, but with certain dicasteries within it.

Cardinal Sarah’s remarks seem to underline this clash of cultures. “We can be competent in organising but lack some qualities for co-ordinating work or for reinforcing the Catholic identity”, he said, referring to Dr Knight. He mentions “new internal challenges”, including the revision of CI’s statutes, challenges which, he says, “involve internal collaboration, the Catholic identity of the confederation, cooperation with the Holy See, greater participation of the various continents, a proper understanding of the proper autonomy of each Caritas member of the confederation.”

Read between those lines, and Dr Knight – together with the rest of CI’s leadership – stands accused in some Vatican quarters of being too independent of the Curia, too much like secular NGOs in its approach to development, and failing to reflect the developing-world – and presumably more traditional – approach of its member organisations.

Some have suggested that Dr Knight's bona fides were undermined by her statement she made for CI in the wake of Pope Benedict's remarks on condoms and Aids last November. Some took it mean she had suggested there had been a change in the Vatican's position; the Vatican's position, of course, was that no such change took place. Yet it's hard to read the statement and come to that conclusion.

"We're just as much in the dark as anyone else", a source close to Dr Knight told me.

This looks like a Vatican coup in some ways reminiscent of the takeover of English liturgical translations from ICEL, the body appointed by 11 bishops conferences. That takeover also had its origin in a dispute over authority with the Congregation for Divine Worship under Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez. A standoff between the CDW and ICEL resulted in Rome revising the principles of liturgical translation, replacing ICEL’s leaders, and putting in place a Vatican watchdog, Vox Clara, to oversee the revisions. At the time it was seen as a blow for Vatican centralism against bishops’ conferences. But such moves are never only about power. The Vatican tends to intervene in this way only if it believes that important principles are at stake.

But it's hard to see what principles might be at stake here. Pope Benedict's 2007 encyclical Caritas in veritate signalled what some saw as a new approach to development, with greater emphasis on taking prophetic stands as a witness to the truth. Yet Caritas workers at the time (2007) never saw CiV as a threat to its modus operandi.

I asked a senior source in Rome about the move against Dr Knight. "It's complicated", was all he would say.

Whatever else it is, this shake-up is an assertion of control by Vatican departments suspicious of CI’s autonomy and global reach. Reforms may be coming which establish a direct supervisory role for Cor Unam and other dicasteries. But for what purpose? The liturgical translation fiasco should serve as a warning. Interference from above can create more problems than it solves.


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Juan Lino
11 years 3 months ago

Permit me to tell you about an international organization started by friends who follow Christ in the international lay movement Communion and Liberation that I support with my limited funds – AVSI (The Association of Volunteers in International Service).  

Here’s a brief description and their website address: AVSI - The Association of Volunteers in International Service - is an international not-for-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in Italy in 1972. AVSI’s mission is to support human development in developing countries with special attention to education and the promotion of the dignity of every human person, according to Catholic social teaching.


I am only mentioning AVSI because not many people are aware that it exists, that it does great work, and that it needs support.  
Juan Lino
11 years 3 months ago
Wow, there’s a lot of the usual “adverbial” language being used to describe this situation. (E.g., “takeover”, “seen as an obstacle”, etc.). Looked at from a strictly organizational view, if Ms. Knight isn’t willing or able to adapt to the “new management’s” style, then, as in any organization, she would either be asked to leave, resign, or not have her contract renewed.  No news here is there?! 

It seems to me that the Tablet (which seems to be the source of all the articles) is happily using a common occurrence to once again bludgeon the Church, our Mother and Teacher. 

After all, is the Holy See obligated to “renew” her contract?  NO!  So why the tempest in a teapot?   
david power
11 years 3 months ago
I am sure that Cardinal Bertone can find a Salesian(Italian!) who can do the job a lot better than any Britishwoman . :)
11 years 3 months ago
We had a fine layman, Gerhard Meier, as Secretary General when I served in Rome as director of the documentation, information and press office of Caritas Internationalis in the late '80s. 

He was followed by another fine layman, Duncan McLaren.
Then, under Oscar Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, S.D.B. as CI's President, at long last and for the very first time, a fine woman, Dr. Leslie-Anne Knight, was duly elected CI's Secretary General, serving with distinction.
Cardinal Bertone's letter, blocking Dr. Knight from a second term at the helm of Caritas Internationalis, sounds discriminatory and sexist. (Yes, Tarcisio Card. Bertone, S.D.B.!...)
Any layman and (now, especially) any laywoman can be asked by the Vatican to carry out programs the Vatican may deem important (like "strengthening charity's Catholic identity").
Barring a woman from a position traditionally held by lay folks now sounds imprudent and anti-feminist.

I just sent an e-mail to my Salesian confrere and CI's President Oscar Cardinal Rodriguez-Maradiaga, begging him to "??Please, HELP!
Bill Mazzella
11 years 3 months ago
Just goes along with the train wreck this papacy is. It is decidedly a bad decision objectively. But it is more dangerous politically. After the power move with the ICEL which even the most conservative Catholics are upset about, bungling appears to be the identity of this regime. This story has not got out yet. Watch the Vatican get on the defense with this one saying we didn't mean this but that and on the other hand, or someone misquoted. Take your choice.
Juan Lino
11 years 3 months ago
Fr. Larry - "sounds" and "are" are very different things.  Any proof of your claims? Also, if you know the "behind the scenes, share it.

Bill - My guess about the future is as good as yours but if the decision has weight, I hope the Vatican has the cojones to stand by it.
Juan Lino
11 years 3 months ago
My first sentence in #1 should read: ...the usual "adversarial" language...  

Not a good typing day for me!!!  
Anne Chapman
11 years 3 months ago
Few know who Caritas is, and fewer yet will know or understand the implications of Rome's latest power move against someone who dares to speak up to the PTB.  And so, the lack of knowledge of the average Catholic will ensure that Rome will once again get away with it.  It is an imperial church, after all, and the little people who work for the church or simply those in the pews who support it are of no concern to those at the top, unless they openly defy Rome, or even just disagree with one of its high-level functionaries publicly. 

I am concerned because I give a large portion of contributions from my limited wealth to Catholic Relief Services.  If Rome, through Caritas, begins imposing requirements on CRS that either dilute its effectiveness or if they begin skimming from the CRS till, then many will have to re-think support of this outstanding relief organization.  Unfortunately, I long ago lost trust in the church's officialdom to use my little bit of money ''wisely.''  Add my little bit to the little bit of millions of others, and it's a lot of money gone to misuse.  I stopped giving to the parish years ago (except for specific purposes) because the bishop takes what he wants from each parish without accountability nor transparency. I stopped giving to the Cardinal's Appeal for the same reason.  I give directly to organizations that do God's work instead - organizations who seemed mostly independent of Rome, including CRS. Perhaps I will have to find another group to support.  There are many out there that aren't subject to Rome's interference.
Anne Chapman
11 years 3 months ago
Juan, I looked up AVSI. For some people, the relationship with Communion and Liberation might raise some red flags.  In researching AVSI's Web site, and reading their Origins, Who We Are, and links etc, I could not find any mention at all of C and L and AVSI's relationship with its parent organization.  Perhaps it's buried there somewhere, but it's not highlighting the relationship which seems a curious omission.

 However, on the C and L site, there is a lot of information about AVSI.  And I noticed that AVSI's US Headquarters has the same address as Communion and Liberation in New York. I am wondering why AVSI omits this information.  AVSI is also not rated by any of the main charity ratings organizations.  Perhaps it is too small.  Catholic Relief Services still gets an ''A'' rating.  I will stick with CRS for now - if it seems that the Vatican starts to cause problems for them, I will rethink it.  I like to know that my small donations are going to the use of the people served by the charity, and not to support something else.  Without additional information on AVSI - how it uses its donations (what percent goes to the people served by the missions and how much to administrative overhead, or , in this case, how much might go to Communion and Liberation) - I would hesitate to give them any donations.  However, I appreciate the information and will keep it in mind if it seems that CRS becomes hampered in its work because of Vatican priorities.
Juan Lino
11 years 3 months ago
Wow, thanks for taking the time to look at AVSI Anne.  I agree that for some people CL raises some red flags just as CRS raises red flags for others.  It’s all good because each tries in their own way to live the Gospel and I think all of us should try to support them as much as we can, according to our preferences, temperment, etc. 

I also want to thank you for alerting me to the fact that I need to provide more information.  AVSI was started by people that follow Christ in Communion and Liberation and so the relationship between it and CL is the same as if six Catholics started a “Homeless Relief Center” in Georgia.  Our center would be independent of the Catholic Church and yet related because we are educated and nourished by the Church.  (I hope this makes sense.)  FYI, they way it works in CL is that people start “personal initiatives” with friends and these initiatives are solely their project although, since we are a community centered on Christ, we help and encourage those initiatives in whatever way we can.

Regarding your great questions and observations, contact them – AVSI has nothing to hide and would gladly provide with answers.

Thanks again.
11 years 3 months ago
BTW, I commend you for being a conscientious steward Anne!

You also made me curious so I looked at the International AVSI Website and here’s what it says:

Funds used by AVSI for project implementation are mainly contributed by the European Unions, UN Agencies, the Italian Government, local administrations and bodies, private businesses and individuals.

Since 1973, AVSI is recognized as an NGO for international cooperation by the Italian Government; it is registered as a private and voluntary organization (PVO) with USAID (N°10013, July 22 1991); it holds General Consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in New York, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Vienna and the UN Fund for Children (UNICEF) in New York, and is recognized on the NGOs Special List of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva; it is registered with the Italian Tax Office as a not-for-profit organization entitled to receive 5 per thousand of income tax, and is a member of “LINK 2007”, a network grouping the main Italian NGOs; it participates to AGIRE, Italian Agency for Emergency Response. AVSI is also an approved body to deal with international adoptions in Italy and abroad.

The AVSI Foundation is a member of CDO Opere Sociali, a federation associated with over 1.000 not-for-profit bodies. Such membership provides AVSI more opportunities to improve its know-how in project implementation and to extend its network of local partners in the various countries of activity.

Anne Chapman
11 years 3 months ago
Juan, it seems that the relationship between AVSI and C and L is more than simply a handful of Catholics starting a soup kitchen somewhere.  There is a pdf available from the CL Web site. http://www.clonline.us/announcements2011.pdf that provides a lot of information on AVSI .  Yet AVSI does not even mention C and L and I can't help wonder about that.   The C and L Web site seems to risk seeming to be a bit overfocused on its founder - it resembles in some ways a personality cult somewhat reminiscent of that in the Legionaries of Christ for its founder, Maciel.  However, I agree with you that we must each support the work Christ asks us to do in the gospels, and that means supporting those organizations that do the actual work.  However, we must also be prudent that we are supporting the real work, and not the expansion of the organization itself.  I have been burned a couple of times and now carefully check out every group that I donate money to.
Juan Lino
11 years 3 months ago
I really thank you for your observations Anne and I am going to pass them along to the National Office – especially since I think the National Office needs to understand that they can’t presume that their communication style is understood by everyone. 

For example, the announcements document you looked at was given to all those who lead the various communities in the US at the National Diakonia and so, IMHO, without a context it doesn’t make sense to post it on the website since it’s really an internal document that highlights information that was to be shared with everyone in the local CL community.  I am glad they posted it (transparency and all that) but one really needs the context to understand what they are looking at.

I, like you, have been "burned a couple of times" and so I now also "carefully check out every group that I donate money to" – that’s a very wise policy and one I wish everyone adopted!

Regarding your concerns that CL can become sort of personality cult - Fr. Carron, the current leader of CL, repeatedly warns us of this danger and constantly reminds us that the focus is Christ.  Fr. Giussani is simply the conduit that the Holy Spirit used to remind the Church of the centrality of the Christian Event and the importance of a personal (not individualistic) "yes" to Christ at all moments of the day.  (I'll stop now before I start using too much "CL speak".)
Jim McCrea
11 years 3 months ago
More years ago than I care to remember the real NCR posted this little ditty that still seems appropriate in this day and age:

"Ladies, Ladies, soon you'll agree
This altar girl crumb from the Holy See
Gives truth to the adage that you'll always be,
Rarely the dog, but most often the tree."

11 years 3 months ago
Would you really trust a group (Cor Unum) which has not been able to put on its web site (http://bit.ly/fjydKw)  any information about what it has done since 2006 to coordinate the work of Catholic Charities around the world?
Nancy McNally
11 years 2 months ago
I have to disagree with maintaining that it is difficult to see how someone would 'misread' the Caritas Internationalis press release that is referred to. Firstly, CI should know exactly what the Pope says (not what he reportedly says), and for this, a closer relationship with Cor Unum would indeed be needed. For such a delicate matter, had CI even briefly consulted with Cor Unum, they would have known that their statement was really missing the mark. I'm not saying they need to always consult, but on this, it is absolutely necessary.

What I see when I open the CI press statement is first the photo of a smiling Pope Benedict, with a caption that reads "The Pope mentions the use of a condom to prevent HIV infection can be a first step towards assuming moral responsibility and adopting a more human way of living sexuality."


Without the proper context, it would appear indeed as if the Pope thinks condoms are wonderful. The media can bungle his message, they have a bit of an excuse, but CI absolutely cannot get it wrong.

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