Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga
VATICAN CITY – A Vatican decree has established new statutes and norms for Caritas Internationalis, giving Vatican offices greater authority over the work of the umbrella group of Catholic aid agencies.
The decree strengthens the roles Vatican offices and the pope play in working with the charity confederation.
Vatican offices will name and approve new board members for Caritas and approve its texts, contracts with foreign governments and financial transactions.
It also creates a special "support commission" of legal, technical and organizational experts named by the pope to help the organization.
The commission will oversee how Caritas follows the new norms as well as other Church regulations.
At least three members of Caritas' executive board will be papal appointees.
The new norms are part of Pope Benedict's concern over the authentic Catholic identity of Church-run or sponsored aid and development programs.
They also reflect his teaching that Catholic charitable activity should not be simple philanthropy, but a reflection of Christian faith and the obligation to love others as Christ loved.
In fact, Pope Benedict XVI "set out the fundamental principles to be developed in the new norms" in a speech to the Caritas general assembly last year and he "gave precise instructions" to the secretary of state on the contents of the new statutes, wrote Msgr. Osvaldo Neves de Almeida, an official in the Vatican's secretariat of state.
Caritas Internationalis is made up of 164 Catholic relief, development and social service agencies working in almost 200 countries.
Most member agencies are Caritas or relief and development agencies sponsored by national bishops' conferences, such as the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
The general decree – signed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and approved by Pope Benedict – was published by the Vatican May 2 and went into effect the same day.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Caritas Internationalis president, said, "This is a day of joy and hope" for the organization.
"Our new statutes and rules will modernize our work in delivering humanitarian assistance and development in service to the poor," he said in a written statement.
"They will provide us with the framework to carry out our work as part of the mission of the Church."
Secretary General Michel Roy said the new statutes and rules clarify that Caritas is "both at the service of the confederation members and of the Holy See."
The revision process began in 2007 as a follow-up to Blessed John Paul II having raised the technical status of the federation to a "public juridical entity" of the church in 2004.
The new status formally recognized that Caritas carries out its charitable activities in the name of the Catholic Church and it meant the organization would function under the administration of the Vatican.
Neves said in an explanatory statement accompanying the decree that the updated status was meant to better support the federation's activity.
The Vatican "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," the monsignor wrote.
According to the new norms, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will continue to give doctrinal oversight to texts that are of a moral or doctrinal nature.
The Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See will continue to monitor the administration of temporal goods.
The Secretariat of State will have to approve official grants coming from governments and international organizations and non-emergency aid and development projects that have been started or are being run by Caritas Internationalis.
Cor Unum and the secretariat of state will have to be notified of any agreements made with government authorities or nongovernmental organizations when Caritas Internationalis responds to emergency humanitarian situations.
The pope told the Caritas assembly last year that the Vatican is responsible for following the activities of Caritas and "exercising oversight to ensure that its humanitarian and charitable activity, and the content of its documents, are completely in accord with the Apostolic See and the Church's magisterium."
Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, said in a statement that the new legal framework does not apply to national Caritas organizations, which will maintain their autonomy.
However, Sarah said the new norms "could inspire the bishops and bishops' conferences to eventually review their diocesan or national Caritas statutes."