Vatican cardinal defends Pope’s decision to fire Caritas leadership

Cardinal Michael Czerny, who heads the development office responsible for Caritas, has defended Pope Francis’ “drastic” decision to fire the elected leadership of Caritas Internationalis in November 2022.

Speaking at a week-long meeting in Rome of the global confederation of 162 national Caritas chapters, Czerny (pictured) explained that the move was necessary for the well-being of staff at Caritas and was not a condemnation of its work.

“I am sure that all of you were surprised and disturbed by this,” Czerny told the audience.

“The appointment of a temporary administrator was an act of love and care, not a denunciation … It was a necessary call to repair and fine-tune a body that is essential for the whole church.”

The November decision saw Francis fire Caritas secretary-general Aloysius John, president Filipino Cardinal Antonio Tagle, Tagle’s vice presidents, the treasurer, and ecclesiastic assistant.

The move came after an external investigation revealed “real deficiencies” in management that had affected staff morale at the Caritas secretariat in Rome.

While there was no evidence of financial wrongdoing or sexual misconduct, former employees described a toxic workplace environment under John, where staff were bullied, harassed and humiliated.

Several quit, giving up sought-after income tax-free Vatican employment rather than remain in abusive conditions.

Czerny insisted that the dismissals were necessary and appropriate and were by no means a criticism of Caritas or its work providing emergency aid and development assistance to the neediest worldwide.

The cardinal explained that the investigation had “revealed patterns of workplace relationships and processes that prevented the general secretariat from operating properly; furthermore, they undermined the well-being of staff.

They put the operations, name and reputation at risk, not only of Caritas Internationalis but of all Caritas.”

“Brutal power grab”

On the eve of the Caritas assembly to elect new leaders, John wrote an open letter to the Caritas representatives, criticising Czerny’s office for a “brutal power grab” and casting his ouster in racial terms.

John, a French citizen of Indian descent, said that the wealthier donor countries from the “North” had never wanted a Caritas secretary-general from the “South” and wanted to impose their will on the confederation.

On Saturday, Archbishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo was elected as the organisation’s new president.

He will hold office for four years and may be reelected for a second term.

Addressing the assembly’s 400 delegates, the archbishop stressed that Caritas “must be in the front line to receive, accompany, serve and defend the poor and vulnerable.”

“This mission must be upheld and capture all attention of the members of the confederation, and I would like to be the one to lead the entire organisation to fulfil this important mission of the Church together with the Secretary-General,” Kikuchi said.

“All are invited to walk together.”


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