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On eve of Caritas Internationalis’ general assembly, ousted head claims Vatican engaged in ‘brutal power grab’

He warned those attending the general assembly “to guard against any ‘political’ drift and thus to remain at the service of the poor, in the spirit of the Gospel”

The ousted head of Caritas Internationalis, the charitable organization of the Catholic Church, claimed that the Vatican has been engaged in a “brutal power grab” spearheaded by some officials of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

In an “open letter” dated April 30, Aloysius John, ousted secretary general of the organization, said his ouster in November last year appears to be “a deliberate will on the part of certain superiors” in the dicastery.

“It is a brutal power grab,” said John, a French citizen of Indian descent, adding that Caritas leaders from wealthier “Northern” regions never wanted a Caritas leader from the “South.”

He said November 22, 2022, the date when he was removed, “will go down in the history of Caritas Internationalis as a day of great sadness when the fundamental principle of respect for human dignity was deliberately violated.”

On that date, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis ordered the removal of the entire leadership of the international confederation of Catholic charities and appointed a temporary administrator supposedly to improve the organization’s management.

Pope Francis appointed Pier Francesco Pinelli, an Italian management consultant, as temporary administrator following the removal of Caritas Internationalis president Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, John, and other officials.

John released his open letter ahead of the confederation’s general assembly that will start on May 11 and will end on May 16 when new leaders of the Vatican-based confederation of 162 national chapters are expected to be elected.

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“I simply wanted to share these few thoughts, not to create controversy, but responsibly and also to make it easier to understand what is at stake for the confederation,” read John’s letter.

He warned those attending the general assembly “to guard against any ‘political’ drift and thus to remain at the service of the poor, in the spirit of the Gospel.”

“The crisis that the confederation is going through today must challenge us,” he said, adding that it is “organizational, ideological and ecclesial.”

John thanked Caritas Internationalis members who proposed that he run for this year’s assembly. He alleged, however, that the confederation’s Candidature Committee “arbitrarily and without any explanation rejected” the proposal.

In his letter, John said the confederation was in good financial shape and was doing well when he and the entire management, including Cardinal Tagle, were removed.

He said the Vatican’s decision was “made in haste, with incredible violence and very poor public communication.”

“At a time when the synodal process is striving to move forward within our Church bodies, this act is incomprehensible,” he said.

An Associated Press report, however, said John’s 2019-2022 tenure was problematic from the start after he failed to initially win a majority of votes in the election even after other candidates dropped out or were prevented by the Vatican from running.

The report said that alhough he eventually won the vote, John didn’t have a strong mandate to lead and was immediately plunged into a crisis over a sex abuse scandal in the Central African Republic dating from the term of his predecessor, Michel Roy.

In a separate statement obtained by LiCAS News, Roy said “the brutality of the decision” to place Caritas Internationalis under the supervision of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development gave rise “to a great deal of misunderstanding and questions.”

He said the recent controversy “gives the Holy See’s procedures a very bad image externally and tarnishes the reputation of Caritas Internationalis.”

Pope Francis in November removed the entire leadership of Caritas Internationalis after an independent review reportedly found deficiencies in the organization’s “management and procedures, seriously prejudicing team-spirit and staff morale.”

Statue of St. Peter on St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican (Photo by Daniel Ibáñez / CNA)

The review looked at “the workplace environment of the [Caritas Internationalis] General Secretariat and its alignment with Catholic values of human dignity and respect for each person.”

Both current and former employees were invited to participate, according to a statement from the dicastery, which said: “No evidence emerged of financial mismanagement or sexual impropriety, but other important themes and areas for urgent attention emerged from the panel’s work. Real deficiencies were noted in management and procedures, seriously prejudicing team-spirit and staff morale.”

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, in its press release, cited Pope Francis’ new apostolic constitution, Praedicate evangelium, which says the human development office has competency over Caritas Internationalis and “exercises the responsibilities reserved by law to the Holy See in establishing and supervising international charitable associations and funds created for the same purposes, in accordance with the provisions of the respective statutes and in compliance with current legislation.”

In a statement quoted by the Associated Press this week, Caritas Internationalis assured that new statutes will be presented to delegates during this week’s meeting.

“We are preparing for it to be a time of joyful encounter, of sincere dialogue and mutual listening, aimed at building together the future path of fraternal cooperation, at the service of the poor and the most vulnerable,” read the statement.

Caritas Internationalis, founded in 1951, is a Catholic confederation of 162 charitable organizations based in 200 countries around the world. Its headquarters are located on Vatican territory in Rome, and the Vatican oversees its activity.

The governance of Caritas Internationalis is elected for four-year terms during the organization’s general assembly.

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