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Cafod defends appointment of Christine Allen as director

Christine Allen (Photo: Cafod)

Allen has criticised Church teaching on contraception, saying it was a 'battle' about 'the very nature of church'

Cafod has announced that Christine Allen will take over as director in the spring. Allen, who is currently director of policy and public affairs at Christian Aid, will follow Chris Bain in leading the official aid agency for the Church in England and Wales.

But Cafod was forced to defend Allen’s suitability for the role after concerns were raised about her past record. In 2002, Progressio, the charity Allen led, endorsed the use of condoms in HIV prevention. Four years later, in an article for Chartist magazine, Allen criticised Catholic teaching on contraception, which she said “simply doesn’t stack up when it comes to HIV”. The contest between supporters and opponents of Church teaching, Allen said, was fundamental: “The battle between these factions is about the very nature of church.”

Allen also seems to oppose Church teaching on homosexuality: she has liked tweets in favour of redefining marriage, including one which described the Episcopalian Church’s acceptance of same-sex marriage as “Progress”.

Asked whether her views were compatible with leading a Catholic agency, and whether she thought abortion was always wrong, Allen told the Catholic Herald: “I understand the expectations on me in this role, and my commitment to Catholic teaching is undimmed.”

Cafod’s board of trustees, when asked whether the appointment was likely to alienate Catholics and hurt donations, said: “Christine Allen has been asked her views as part of Cafod’s due diligence process and has satisfied the Trustees that she will uphold Catholic teaching and values.”

John Smeaton, chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: “This is a surprising appointment to say the least. Progressio, the international charity led by Christine Allen for 11 years, has a simply appalling record on matters relating to the Catholic Church and Catholic teaching.”

Smeaton observed that, during Allen’s tenure, Progressio partnered with two organisations (COMUS and Fundacion Puntos de Encuentro) which have joined a campaign to remove the Church’s status as a UN Permanent Observer.

Bishop John Arnold, chair of Cafod’s trustees, praised Allen’s “vision, energy, and deep-rooted faith and commitment to Catholic values”. Plaudits also came from Sarah Teather, the former government minister and current leader of Jesuit Refugee Service UK, who tweeted: “This is cracking news. I let out a whoop!”

Allen said she felt she was “coming home”, having discovered Catholic social teaching when she first worked for Cafod. She described herself as “humbled” to lead Cafod, which she called “a powerful witness of love in a world of greed and selfishness, as we seek to end the injustices of poverty, inequality and environmental exploitation”.

UPDATE: In response to the publication of this story, Bishop John Arnold, Cafod’s Chair of Trustees, wrote a letter to the Catholic Herald on November 23 stating: “I would like to correct the impression given by Dan Hitchens that Cafod’s Board of Trustees were ‘forced to defend’ the appointment of Cafod’s new director, Christine Allen. Quite the opposite. Cafod’s Trustees fully endorse her appointment, which has been greeted with joy by Cafod staff and supporters. We are delighted to welcome Christine back to Cafod.”