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ROME – To the surprise of many inside the organization, Pope Francis essentially placed the Catholic Church’s largest charitable organization into receivership Tuesday, removing its current leadership and appointing an interim administrator to overhaul both its statues and management.
The decree was published as members of Caritas International were in the middle of a two-day meeting in Rome for the first time since COVID-19.
A statement issued by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development, which oversees Caritas, ruled out “financial mismanagement or sexual impropriety” as motives for the pope’s action, citing instead “real deficiencies” in “management and procedures, seriously prejudicing team-spirit and staff morale.”
To lead the overhaul, Pope Francis appointed 59-year-old Italian layman Pier Francesco Pinelli, who’s been involved in efforts at organizational change in sectors ranging from oil and gas to the theatre.
With the publication of the decree, members of Caritas International’s representative and executive councils, its president and vice presidents, as well as its secretary general, treasurer, and ecclesiastical assistant, all lost their jobs.
Pinelli will be assisted by Maria Amparo Alonso Escobar, Caritas’s current Head of Advocacy, and Jesuit Father Manuel Morujão, who will assist in the “personal and spiritual accompaniment” of the staff throughout the process.
The team is charged with updating the statutes and the regulations of Caritas International to ensure “their greater functionality and efficiency,” and they will also prepare for the organization’s upcoming general assembly to elect new leadership, which is currently set for May 2023.
In preparing for that assembly, Pinelli also will be assisted by Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who had served as the president of Caritas International, and who’s currently Pro-Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization.
Tagle’s role is described as liaising with local churches and member organizations in preparation for the upcoming assembly.
Pinelli, Alonso Escobar, Morujão, and Tagle will operate under the guidance of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, currently led by Canadian Jesuit Cardinal Michael Czerny.
Caritas International is a confederation of 162 different Catholic relief, development, and social service organizations present in over 200 countries and territories throughout the world, working specifically with the poor and marginalized.
In the statement from the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, it was noted that the department was given competence for Caritas Internationalis as part of Pope Francis’s reform of the Roman Curia, meaning the Vatican’s central governing bureaucracy, published earlier this year in his constitution, Predicate Evangelium.
Shortly after, the department said it commissioned a review of the “workplace environment” within the general secretariate of Caritas Internationalis, as well as “its alignment with Catholic values of human dignity and respect for each person.”
The review was carried out by a panel of independent experts including Pinelli, and psychologists Father Enrico Parolari and Doctor Francesca Busnelli, and both current and former employees were invited to participate.
The goal of the review, the statement said, was to improve Carita’s International’s “management norms and procedures.” It found that despite management problems, “financial matters have been well-handled and fundraising goals regularly achieved.”
The goal of the new administrative team, the statement said, is to help Caritas better serve “its member charitable organizations around the world,” the statement said, insisting that the suspension of all current leadership “has no impact” on the work of member organizations and charitable services around the world and rather is intended to “strengthen such service.”
Both Pinelli and Alonso will manage Caritas operations and “provide stability and empathetic leadership,” while working to complete candidate nominations for the May 2023 elections according to the norms outlined in Caritas’s statutes.
Speaking of the current situation, Czerny in the statement said, “In recent years we have seen the needs of the many whom Caritas serves increase markedly, and it is imperative that Caritas Internationalis be well prepared to meet these challenges.”
“Pope Francis invites us to consider ‘the mission that Caritas is called to carry out in the Church,” he said, saying “Charity is not a barren service nor a simple offering to be made in order to ease our conscience.”
“What we must never forget,” he said, “is that charity has its origin and its essence in God himself; charity is God our Father’s embrace of every person, particularly of the least and the suffering, those who occupy a preferential place in his heart.’”
These words, Czerny said, ought to inspire everyone involved in Caritas Internationalis “to ensure the organization proves equal to its mission.”
In order to help bring Caritas International’s Rome office “up to a standard commensurate” with its mission, Czerny’s department, according to the statement, will continue to exercise its competence over the charitable organization, “encouraging the resolution of the issues elucidated in the review.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen