In an unexpected decree, Pope Francis suspends Caritas Internationalis' current leadership and appoints temporary administrator.
On November 22, 2022, the Vatican press office shared a decree issued by Pope Francis, stating that Caritas Internationalis will be placed under the leadership of a Temporary Administrator until May 2023, when the organization will hold a General Assembly to revise its statutes. This announcement comes after an independent commission investigated the body and highlighted difficulties in financial management.
Pope Francis’ decisive and unexpected act will affect this widespread organization that oversees the Catholic Church’s humanitarian work around the world. Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organizations working in more than 200 countries and territories around the world. It is under the responsibility of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
The new temporary leaders
The press release accompanying the decree assures that the activities on the ground will continue as per usual but announces the appointment, with immediate effect, of a leading trio made up of two lay people and a Jesuit priest. An Italian consultant, Pier Francesco Pinelli, has been named as the Temporary Administrator. He will be assisted by Spaniard Maria Amparo Alonso Escobar, the current Head of Advocacy for Caritas Internationalis, and by a Portuguese Jesuit, Father Manuel Morujão, who will help accompany the staff personally and spiritually. The outgoing Secretary General, Frenchman Aloysius John who was elected in May 2019, is not mentioned in the decree but has de facto lost his mandate.
The General Assembly in May 2023 will elect a new President, Secretary General and Treasurer. In the meantime, Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the outgoing President of Caritas Internationalis, will assist the Temporary Administrator and help collaborate with local churches and the confederation’s member organizations.
The purpose of this temporary change in Caritas’ structure is to “improve its management norms and procedures,” the press release accompanying the decree says. The statement explains that the independent commission’s investigation did not find evidence of “financial mismanagement or sexual impropriety,” but rather “real deficiencies were noted in management and procedures, seriously prejudicing team spirit and staff morale.”
Cardinal Tagle reassures Caritas’ members
Cardinal Tagle read the Pope’s decree to the members of Caritas Internationalis who were participating in the plenary assembly of the confederation, held in Rome on November 21 and 22.
“This news might be a bit disturbing or confusing to some of you. But rest assured that this decision of the Holy Father came after a careful and independent study of the working environment of the Secretariat and the governance exercised by responsible persons and bodies,” Cardinal Tagle said, according to Vatican News.
He also emphasized that this is not “about sexual harassment or sexual abuse. This is not about, again, mismanagement of money … the decree clearly stated the intention.”
According to Reuters, current and former staff members spoke of cases of “verbal abuse, favoritism, and general human resources mismanagement that had led some staff to leave.”
Cardinal Tagle underlined at the plenary assembly that this moment in the organization “is a call for walking humbly with God and a process of discernment, confronting our unfreedoms and following the spirit of freedom.”
The new Temporary Administrator
The new Administrator, Pier Francesco Pinelli, also told Vatican News that he is grateful to the Pope for trusting in him and that he hopes “together with all the people of Caritas Internationalis, to initiate processes of reconciliation and improvement that can bear fruit in the long term for this association that has been in existence for 70 years.”
He sees this moment in the organization as “a check-point to improve what is already excellent.”
Pinelli has a degree in engineering, was a management consultant for Bain & Company, and has worked with the Vatican for many years. He accompanied the creation of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and today is a member of the pontifical commission for the evaluation of this Dicastery and of its sub-section focused on Migrants and Refugees.
Pinelli is also close to the Jesuits, as he was formed in the Ignatian spirituality. He was also director of the Jesuit Education Foundation and vice-president of the Magis missionary network.