Church in the World
Caritas Internationalis leader ‘must strengthen charity’s Catholic identity’Robert Mickens - 26 February 2011
The Vatican has indicated that it blocked Lesley-Anne Knight from a second term at the helm of the Church’s largest development organisation because it wants a new leader who can strengthen its Catholic identity and forge more cordial working relations with the Holy See.
Rome’s reasons for failing to allow the re-appointment of Dr Knight as secretary general of the Rome-based Caritas Internationalis (CI) are given in a letter sent by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, to all the world’s episcopal conferences and seen this week by The Tablet.
“During the next four years particular attention will have to be given to harmonising the theological dimension of Caritas Internationalis … with its role as an organisation operating on the international stage,” says the three-page letter, dated 15 February. It adds that the next CI secretary general will also need to improve communication with other ecclesial bodies and with the dicasteries of the Roman Curia that have an “interest” in CI activities.
The letter, which was also sent to bishops responsible for the 165 member charities that make up the Caritas confederation, further indicates that the advocacy work that Caritas carries out must be better coordinated “in strict cooperation with the Holy See, which is specifically competent in this regard”.
Similar sentiments were echoed on Tuesday by the head of the papal charity office charged with monitoring Caritas Internationalis. “We can be competent in organising, but lack certain qualities for coordinating the work or reinforcing Catholic identity,” said Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, when asked by The Tablet why the Vatican denied Dr Knight the nihil obstat required for re-election. “I think everyone has limitations,” he said at a press conference to present Pope Benedict’s message for Lent. In an interview published on Monday, the cardinal said Cor Unum and the Secretariat of State were “awaiting a new [CI] secretary general that will face up to new internal challenges”, and named Catholic identity and “cooperation with the Holy See” as among these.
Nonetheless, Cardinal Sarah praised Dr Knight – the first woman CI secretary general and a British national – for making the Caritas confederation more agile and professional. Cardinal Bertone, in his letter, also pays tribute to her for having “achieved significant results and acted with an appreciable professionalism”. The Secretary of State 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”.
But the Vatican’s decision to block Dr Knight’s candidacy for re-election has caused outrage in the confederation, according to her immediate predecessor. Duncan MacLaren, a Scot who was CI secretary general from 1999 to 2007, claimed this week that the Vatican could only block candidates for not being in good standing with the Church. In an article posted on Monday on the website of the Australian Jesuit magazine Eureka Street, he asked: “If Knight was in good standing with the Church four years ago, what has changed?”
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