Who’s in the running for Cafod’s top job?

Sarah Teather (Getty), Ruth Kelly (Getty), Alistair Dutton (CIDSE)

It’s not a bad job, being director of Cafod: £90,000 a year to run the English Church’s international aid agency, and to oversee its tireless work feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and empowering those on the margins.

But it’s not an easy job, either: in an aid world which often disdains Catholicism, how do you keep up with the times while thinking with the Church? So Cafod’s trustees, who are expected to announce a new director in the next month or so, have a delicate task.

The successor to Chris Bain, who is stepping down after 15 years in the role, needs to be a first-rate administrator and communicator. They also need to win the trust of the government, the aid world, and – last but not least – the Catholic community. Here are some of the names who could be in the running:

Sarah Teather
Once a Lib Dem MP and a minister in the Coalition, Teather left Parliament in 2015, after saying that the Lib Dems had neglected their commitment to “social justice and liberal values on immigration”. (She decided to step down after a month-long Ignatian retreat.) It’s not the only occasion when Teather has taken a stand on her conscience: she voted against same-sex marriage (“one of the most difficult decisions I have ever taken”), warning that the change would, “over time, ultimately decouple the definition of marriage from family life altogether”.

Few politicians have been more active in campaigning for the vulnerable. Teather currently works as the national representative of the Jesuit Refugee Service. Could she make the leap to a much bigger role?

Margaret Mwaniki
Based in Kenya, Mwaniki is herself a trustee of Cafod, and regional desk officer for Caritas Africa. Highly qualified and experienced, she would be an obvious choice if Cafod wants a director with first-hand experience in the countries which it serves.

Christine Allen
The Liverpudlian was executive director of Progressio from 2001 to 2012. In 2002, the charity announced that “condoms are one important element” in HIV prevention. In a 2006 article for Chartist, Allen wrote that “The ban on condom use is based on preventing artificial methods of contraception hailing back to a document from 1968 [Humanae Vitae]” and that the teaching “simply doesn’t stack up when it comes to HIV”. She added that, in the debate over contraception and HIV, “The battle between these factions is about the very nature of church.”

Less controversially, Allen has written eloquently for the Guardian about the “hidden treasure” of Catholic social teaching.

Patrick Nicholson
Another aid world insider, Nicholson is director of communications at Caritas, known among other things for his awareness-raising photography. He’s also said to be well-liked in Rome. His understanding of modern slavery, meanwhile, would put him in tune with the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Alistair Dutton
Another candidate with bags of experience in the aid world. Dutton has worked as humanitarian director for Caritas Internationalis, of which Cafod is a member, and he now runs Sciaf, the Scottish bishops’ aid agency. He had to bring Sciaf through the aid world’s recent abuse scandal, revealing that the charity had had to deal with two such cases but assuring the public: “We can be trusted.” It seems to have worked.

Dutton, a former Jesuit novice, was interim director of the Sphere Project, which produces a handbook of miniumum standards for aid projects. It tells aid workers to “Establish access to good-quality free male and female condoms” – though, importantly, the handbook exempts Caritas from this guidance.

Ruth Kelly
From the perspective of the aid world, Kelly is an outsider, but apart from that she has an impressive CV. Kelly served in Tony Blair’s Cabinet from 2004 to 2008, leading the departments for education, local government and transport. She’s since taken a senior role at HSBC, before becoming pro-vice chancellor at St Mary’s University. As an MP, Kelly was endlessly criticised for upholding Catholic teaching – for instance, she opposed Labour’s decision to shut down Catholic adoption agencies for not accepting same-sex couples. Nobody, then, could doubt her Catholic credentials. But she appears to be happy at St Mary’s, and her lack of development world experience makes her an outside bet.

The job description says Cafod wants “an inspirational leader who harnesses our faith identity and enables our international development, humanitarian and advocacy work to deliver our mission of service”.

The “faith identity” question sometimes causes public debate: in 2016, for instance, one of the charity’s theological advisers, Tina Beattie, called for liberalising abortion laws in Poland. Cafod had to issue a statement saying the letter did not “reflect Cafod’s policies”. But most of Cafod’s work goes on quietly, out of the public eye, and that will continue whoever gets the job.

This article first appeared in the September 7 2018 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here.