In its 61 years of existence, Caritas Internationalishas always been a privileged instrument of the Church’s charitable activity. Drawing upon its long experience of this worthy institution, and in particular the developments of recent years, the Holy See has sought to update the juridical status of Caritas Internationalis, in order the better to support its activity in the context of the modern world.
History and characteristic features of Caritas Internationalis
During the Audience at which he received the participants in the 19th General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis on 27 May 2011, Pope Benedict XVI outlined the historical profile and ecclesial nature of this institution, which is a privileged setting for the participation of the lay faithful in the apostolate of the hierarchy (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 27).
On that occasion, the Holy Father recalled that Caritas Internationalis cannot be assimilated into the major Non-Governmental Organizations, even though it carries out with exemplary professionalism and competence roles that they too fulfil, in particular the fight against poverty, the coordination of humanitarian aid and international advocacy.
Caritas Internationalis was the brainchild of Pius XII after the horrors of the Second World War, and it was intended to demonstrate the solidarity of the whole Church in the face of the many situations of conflict and emergency in the world. In 2004, Blessed John Paul II gave it public canonical juridical personality by means of the Chirograph Durante l’ultima Cena.
Caritas Internationalis has a universal profile and it carries out its specific task in the name of the Church. It is called to foster communion between the universal Church and particular Churches as well as among all the faithful. It is to bring the Church’s message into political and social life at the international level (cf. Audience to the participants at the General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis,27 May 2011). The Holy See, for its part, has the task of following its activity and exercising vigilance in order that both its humanitarian and charitable action and the content of the documents that it disseminates may be in harmony with the Apostolic See and with the Church’s Magisterium, and in order that it may be administered with competence and transparency.
This public juridical person is governed principally, though not exclusively, by its proper legislation and by the relevant provisions of the Code of Canon law. The Chirograph Durante l’Ultima Cena, in recognizing the special bond linking Caritas Internationalis with the Apostolic See, implicitly established that its governance and operation should make reference to the First Section of the Secretariat of State (cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, art. 41). At the same time, the Chirograph gave the Pontifical Council Cor Unum the task of following and accompanying the activity of Caritas Internationalis. Even though they are not explicitly mentioned in the Chirograph, the general competences of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for doctrinal oversight obviously remain in force (cf. ibid., art. 48), as do those of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs for vigilance over and monitoring of the administrations that are dependent on the Holy See, or of which the Holy See has charge, whatever the autonomy these administrations may happen to enjoy (cf. ibid., art. 176). More generally, given the universal range of Caritas Internationalis’ activity, the Holy See’s competences for the regulation of ecclesiastical goods and especially for its correct administration have been retained (cf. ibid., art. 98). Moreover, the activity of Caritas Internationalis with respect to Governments and international Organizations, given that it is carried out in the Church’s name and involves the Holy Father’s munus pastorale, also concerns the Second Section of the Secretariat of State.
The process of updating the juridical framework of Caritas Internationalis
The experience garnered in almost eight years of applying the Chirograph Durante l’Ultima Cena has made it possible to understand in greater detail how to carry forward a process of juridical updating that not only respects but expresses even better the nature of the organization and clarifies the distribution of competences among Dicasteries and offices with an interest in it.
Moreover, in these years and especially in recent months, a number of Pastors and members of the lay faithful have shared their ideas with the Holy See and have offered helpful suggestions, manifesting their sincere interest in Caritas Internationalis.
The Holy Father himself, addressing the participants at the said General Assembly of May 2011, set out the fundamental principles to be developed in the new norms.
Meanwhile, between January and May of last year, a working group of representatives from Caritas Internationalis and the Holy See studied a new version of the Statutes of Caritas Internationalis, with the intention of resolving the interlinked doctrinal, juridical and economic issues. The draft Statutes were then approved by the General Assembly and consigned to the Holy See in Autumn 2011.
During the said meetings of the working group, one of the points to emerge was the need for legislation to complement the ChirographDurante l’Ultima Cena, as a normative reference-point for the application of the new Statutes. Having received the draft Statutes, the Holy Father gave precise instructions to the Cardinal Secretary of State on the contents of the said text due to complement the Chirograph. Accordingly, in deference to these indications, the General Decree was drawn up and the new Statutes and Internal Rules were revised in accordance with it.
Some characteristic features of the new General Decree
In deference to the Holy Father’s indications, articles 1, 2 and 3 of the General Decree clarify the competences of the principal Dicasteries involved. In this regard, first and foremost, the role of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum has been strengthened (art. 1), the Dicastery, that is, that follows the institutional activity of Caritas Internationalis and is responsible for approving its texts with doctrinal or moral content. As mentioned earlier, the public nature of Caritas Internationalis and its participation in the Holy Father’s munus pastorale require it at all times, not least in its documents, to express transparently the charity and solicitude of the Church.
Article 2 concerns the First Section and Article 3 the Second Section of the Secretariat of State. Articles 4 and 5 establish guidelines for the future redaction of specific norms governing employment of personnel and the preparation of a suitable welfare regime. The employees of Caritas Internationalis, in fact, while they are not Vatican employees, are part of the working community of the Apostolic See (cf. Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, Appendix II) and they need specific employment norms. Articles 4 and 5 then attribute to the Labour Office of the Apostolic See competence for disputes over employment and welfare provision and they clarify the role of the Tribunals of Vatican City State and of the Roman Rota in relation to Caritas Internationalis.
Article 6, in order to underline the close bond between the organization in question and the Successor of Peter as well as the Pope’s particular attention towards it, establishes that at least three members of the Executive Board be papal appointments. This allows the Holy Father to designate individuals of specific proven competence, particular those coming from poor regions or regions deserving of privileged attention. Until the next General Assembly they will be: the Most Reverend Paul Yembuardo Ouédrago, Archbishop of Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina Faso, the Most Reverend Youssef Antoine Soueif, Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, and the Most Reverend Bernard Hebda, Bishop of Gaylord in the United States. It remains the case, however, that the majority of members are chosen by national Caritasagencies, which therefore continue to be responsible for the governance of this important structure of the Confederation.
Moreover, provision is made for an Ecclesiastical Assistant and a Support Commission. The figure of the Ecclesiastical Assistant was mentioned in the Chirograph Durante l’Ultima Cena, but his precise tasks and his place within the structures of Caritas Internationaliswere not defined. The Support Commission, on the other hand, is new. It is to be composed of three experts with a merely consultative role as far as the functioning of Caritas Internationalis is concerned, that is to say, a supporting role designed to ensure that it follows the new norms and meets its obligations towards the international community, especially in the areas of welfare provision, employment and finance.
In addition to the nihil obstat of the Holy See for candidates for the offices of President and Secretary-General, already provided for in the Chirograph Durante l’Ultima Cena and in the previous Statutes, the General Decree and the new Statutes require a nihil obstat for the candidates for Treasurer, given that this office has a fundamental role in preserving the rights of the Member Organizations and, up to some extent, also of the Holy See.
Article 7 re-affirms the general principle that significant canonical and Vatican legislation is binding upon those who are employed in entities situated within Vatican City and institutionally linked to the Holy See.
In the ongoing dialogue between the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Secretariat of State and the officers of Caritas Internationalis, most of the content of the General Decree has actually been addressed, especially that which pertains to the administrative and disciplinary aspects of employment, and to financial matters.