The general assembly of Caritas Internationalis in late May is shaping up as a defining moment for the confederation of 165 national Catholic charities, at a time when the Vatican is insisting on greater control over Caritas operations.
The agenda of the May 22-27 meeting reflects the Vatican's moves toward closer collaboration and supervision: Four Vatican officials will speak on the crucial topics of Catholic identity and the status of Caritas Internationalis in the Church.
Then new statutes for the organization, prepared by a working team of the Holy See and Caritas Internationalis, will be reviewed — statutes that, according to Caritas officials, would require them to consult with the Holy See before making certain decisions and would acknowledge the Holy See's authority over Caritas' financial and personnel issues.
The changes have not come without tension, but Vatican sources said that in recent talks with top officials of Caritas Internationalis the atmosphere has vastly improved, and that there's been "a great level of cooperation."
They emphasized that the Vatican remains supportive of Caritas and appreciates the key role it plays in promoting the Church's social teaching and helping those in need.
The debate over Caritas Internationalis became public in February when news emerged that Vatican officials had prevented the organization's secretary-general, Lesley-Anne Knight, from seeking a second four-year term.
Caritas officials, citing Knight's accomplishments, expressed deep regret at the Vatican's decision and asked the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, to reconsider — but to no avail.