There are big changes for Caritas International. But what do they mean?


Pope Francis wants to preserve and safeguard the Catholic character of Caritas

Pope Francis has placed the pontifical charitable umbrella organisation, Caritas Internationalis, under the control of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Announced on Friday — the day the Holy Father left for a highly anticipated weekend pilgrimage to Romania — the Pope approved the decree containing the new dispositions on May 20th.

Headquartered in Rome, Caritas Internationalis is a confederation comprised of more than 160 member organisations worldwide, which provide emergency relief assistance and help design and implement development policy in partnership with local Churches, government offices, and civil society actors. Caritas Internationalis describes itself as “the helping hand of the Church – reaching out to the poor, vulnerable and excluded, regardless of race or religion, to build a world based on justice and fraternal love.”

The organisation used to be under the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which was one of the curial departments absorbed by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development when Francis created it in 2016. The May 20th decree concerns institutional relationships within the curia, regulating a series of “competencies” over various institutional acts and activities of the charitable arm.

The decree is concerned with preserving and safeguarding the Catholic character of the Caritas structure’s public face. “Any text of doctrinal or moral content or orientation, as well as all public positions issued by Caritas Internationalis, its representative offices or regional groupings of Member Organizations, must be in line with the positions of the Holy See,” Article 1 Section 2 of the decree states. “In the case of more sensitive issues, the aforementioned Entities are invited to consult, according to the themes and their respective competences, the Secretariat of State or the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.”

In other words, either the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development or the Secretariat of State will directly oversee the doctrinal soundness of Caritas messaging, rather than the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the past tasked with similar oversight responsibilities. The decree also establishes the right of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to participate actively in member organisations’ business meetings.

To the General Affairs Section of the Secretariat of State, rather, go financial oversight responsibilities, as well as the responsibility for overseeing the approval of Caritas Internationalis by-laws and regulations, and policing the enforcement of the same.

The Secretariat of State’s Section for Relations with States, meanwhile, is tasked with  approving any financing agreements by governments and intergovernmental bodies and organizations, as well as with the approval of cooperation agreements and any other accords with governments and intergovernmental outfits — though there is a provision for Caritas Internationalis leadership to enter into short-term accords without the extended approval process, in order to address humanitarian emergencies.

The decree also requires Caritas Internationalis to keep in close contact with the Secretariat of State, making reports to the Section for Relations with States at least every four months on the relations maintained with governments and with diplomatic missions accredited to the Holy See — and to inform the Dicastery for Integral Human Development whenever Caritas Internationalis reports to State.

There are other interesting developments as well, including language suggesting a lay president of Caritas Internationalis is more than a merely theoretical possibility. The role of the president, however, also appears very much reduced.

In short, the new order of curial relations is lining up. Despite claims from high-ranking officials closely involved in the drafting of the highly anticipated new constitution for the Roman Curia to the effect that the already wealthy and powerful Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples is to be the first dicastery, the Secretariat of State increasingly looks to be the most powerful piece on the board.