Overhaul of Caritas essential for its repair, cardinal says

ROME (CNS) -- Drastic leadership changes in Caritas Internationalis were essential to repair workplace dynamics that "represented clear and real dangers" to the global Catholic charity network's work and reputation, said the cardinal overseeing the organization.

Addressing approximately 400 delegates representing national and local Caritas organizations, Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development which has some oversight responsibility of Caritas Internationalis, sought to explain why serious changes were made to the organization's structure in November 2022.

"Quite simply, some people working in the general secretariat complained about workplace problems," which led to a "systematic investigation" of the organization's structures, the cardinal told delegates to the organization's general assembly May 12.

"The findings revealed patterns of workplace relationships and processes that prevented the general secretariat from operating properly; furthermore, they undermined the wellbeing of staff," he said. Such dynamics "put the operations, name and reputation at risk, not only of Caritas Internationalis" but of every Caritas affiliate.

Caritas Internationalis is the umbrella organization for 162 official Catholic charities operating in 200 countries and territories around the world. Its general assembly was taking place May 11-16 in Rome to elect a new president, secretary-general, executive board and fill other leadership positions.

"The exceptional good work of Caritas doesn't justify or excuse serious shortcomings in how the general secretariat goes about its daily chores or how it treats the staff," said Cardinal Czerny. Relating the organization to a sick patient, he said that for doctors "not to act decisively and vigorously" in response to their diagnosis "would be a dereliction of responsibility."

Pope Francis issued a decree in November 2022 suspending the secretary-general and other top leaders. In a statement following its publication, Cardinal Czerny's dicastery cited "real deficiencies" in management and procedures, "seriously prejudicing team-spirit and staff morale."

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle was removed from his position as Caritas president but remained involved in the organization to assist a temporary administrator appointed to oversee the transition, a move Cardinal Czerny said was "not a denunciation," but a "necessary call to repair and fine-tune a body that is essential for the whole church."

Cardinal Tagle was not present at the opening of Caritas' general assembly May 12, although he attended the group's meeting with Pope Francis May 11.

Opening the assembly, Pier Francesco Pinelli, the Italian businessman appointed to oversee Caritas Internationalis during its transition, said that as a global confederation of Catholic charities, mutual accountability, respect and transparency as modeled in synodality are "in the DNA" of Caritas' operation.

"Synodality opens up horizons, opens our minds, helps to find more robust solutions, teaches us to be humble and receptive, increases the joy of participating in the mission and the hope of contributing positively to the kingdom of God on earth," he said.

Asked about whether the outcomes of the general assembly will be respected in the Vatican, Cardinal Czerny encouraged the delegates to not lose hope in the Vatican's support for Caritas' mission despite previous shortcomings.

"Trust is not something you can fake, all we can do is each one contribute, and each one pray for trust," he said. "If one can make a special effort, it would be to trust again even if the explanations of the past are not satisfactory."