Church in the World
Vatican blocks re-election of Caritas Internationalis chiefRobert Mickens - 19 February 2011
The global Catholic development agency Caritas Internationalis (CI) is reeling after the Vatican took the highly unusual step of officially blocking Lesley-Anne Knight from running for a second four-year term as CI secretary general.
The Tablet has learned that three weeks ago the Vatican’s Secretariat of State refused to grant Dr Knight the necessary nihil obstat required for all candidates for the key position. The CI bureau – which includes the international president, secretary general, treasurer and seven regional presidents – has asked the Vatican to “reconsider the decision”. Elections for the 2011-2015 posts of secretary general and international president – currently held respectively by Dr Knight and Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga SDB of Honduras – are to take place during the CI general assembly in late May in Rome.
Cardinal Rodríguez wrote to all directors of the 165-member international confederation on 5 February to inform them of the Vatican’s decision. The letter, which was seen by The Tablet, notes that Secretariat of State officials met a CI delegation on that same day and gave only a verbal account of why the Vatican refused to approve Dr Knight’s candidacy. The cardinal does not mention those reasons in his letter, but does say that the CI bureau, in an extraordinary meeting, “expressed their incomprehension at the reasons provided” and “reaffirmed their positive view of Lesley-Anne Knight’s work for Caritas and the Church”.
An official at a national Caritas member agency who spoke on condition of anonymity opined that Dr Knight may have been rejected because she been “critical of the Vatican machine, has made no secret of it and has failed to be discreet”. But the official praised her for “professionalising” the Rome headquarters, tackling debt and reforming financial operations. Another Caritas source said there is a sense among some Vatican officials that Dr Knight has not done enough to instil a specifically Catholic identity and sense of evangelisation into the confederation’s mission and activities.
“It is true that she is yet to receive the nihil obstat,” Caritas Internationalis said in an official statement given to The Tablet on Wednesday. The statement confirmed that, nonetheless, “Lesley-Anne Knight has submitted her candidacy for secretary general.”
Caritas Internationalis has had periodic difficulties with some Vatican officials, especially at the pontifical human development council Cor Unum, during the past several decades. But last year tensions came to a head after Cor Unum’s president, Cardinal Paul Cordes, designated a CI confederation member to coordinate the Catholic Church’s relief efforts in Haiti (see The Tablet, 30 January 2010). He never consulted with Dr Knight or her office over the move and the CI secretary general made no secret of her displeasure.
Cardinal Cordes, a German close to Pope Benedict, retired as Cor Unum president last October. But before doing so he gave Vatican backing to a new organisation called “Caritas in Veritatis Internationalis”, which looks uncannily like a group specifically designed to replicate the Caritas confederation.
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