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Former head of Caritas fears for its future with loss of independence
LONDON (SE): A former secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, Duncan MacLaren, told the English journal, The Tablet, that he fears for the future of Caritas under the new arrangement bringing it under the control of the Vatican Curia through its pontifical council, Cor Unum.
In the May 12 issue of The Tablet, MacLaren describes Caritas as being one of the most important humanitarian aid agencies in the world, as it is supported by legions of donors and has one million people working for the welfare of 24 million of the world’s poorest people.
MacLaren told the Sunday Examiner in 2005 that the total amount of money that goes through Caritas hands worldwide is unknown, as much of it is collected locally and spent locally under the auspices of its 165 member agencies which operate under the authority of various bishops’ conferences, but he estimates that what goes through the group’s headquarters in Rome today is at least US$5 billion ($38.8 billion).
He points out that Caritas received its former status as the premier Catholic aid agency by Pope John Paul II in 2004, when he granted it public juridical personality under canon law.
He said that under Pope John Paul’s plan, the Vatican aid arm, Cor Unum, was meant to follow and accompany the activities of Caritas, but that the new arrangement shifts the ultimate authority of Caritas from the Holy See to Cor Unum, giving it the right to approve all agreements with non-governmental organisations, staff contracts and the ratification of new members.
Scottish-born MacLaren notes that while placing it under the control of Cor Unum is intended to complement the late pope’s move, it does, in fact, sweep it away, in what he calls a detailed exercise in bureaucratic control.
MacLaren says that Pope Benedict rightly stressed in his address to the 2011 general assembly of Caritas that it differs from other social agencies, as it is ecclesial and shares in the mission of the Church, so there are consequences from its actions.
MacLaren is responding to a Vatican announcement that strongly implies that statements coming out of Caritas have somehow been out of sync with Catholic thinking, which he maintains is simply not true, as they were always vetted by Vatican officials.
MacLaren maintains that during his years as general secretary from 1999 to 2007, Cor Unum paid little attention to Caritas, continually failing to respond to invitations to attend meetings where plans were being made, agreements with other organisations formulated or attempts to articulate a Catholic identity according to cultural backdrop were being discussed.
He says that Cor Unum is a different type of organisation from Caritas with a different way of operating and is not in the business of having to cooperate with United Nations agencies or foreign governments in the manner that Caritas does.
He called the manner in which Caritas operates a good example of how to be Catholic in a highly secularised world, for the sake of the poor.
“When we negotiated a Memo of Understanding with the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS in order to access its expertise, we were careful to send it for approval to the Vatican secretariat of state,” MacLaren says.
“When we were part of the Sphere Project with other non-government organisations to improve standards in humanitarian interventions, we demanded a disclaimer from certain matters which conflicted with Church teaching, and that disclaimer, after much insistence, was granted,” he continues.
MacLaren called this a good model for faith-based organisations to work with and interact with the secular world, saying it is more effective than any type of stiff dialogue or refusing to be involved unless everything is done according to your own wishes.
He notes that this can be detrimental to those for whom the Church is meant to be working, the poor.
He quoted Archbishop João Braz de Aviz, a former Vatican overseer of religious orders and congregations, as saying, “Only after we have established a dialogue do we discuss issues and try to clear things up if there is a problem. This seems much more fruitful than simply going in with a prejudiced attitude.”
MacLaren says that his greatest fear is that the identity of Caritas will change significantly under its new board of control, which could sow discontent among its member organisations and hamper their activity, causing them to seek new partnership organisations which could end up splintering the cohesion that has been the hallmark of Caritas in the past.
He also adds that local bishops will now have a greater say in defining the statutes of Caritas in their dioceses, which can also lead to a r upture in the cohesion of the organisation and be a cause of further splits.
MacLaren describes the ultimate aim of Caritas as being to exercise the humanitarian imperative of assisting the poor quickly and efficiently, with what Pope Benedict calls in his encyclical, God is Love, “A heart which sees.”
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