ROME, Italy, March 7, 2011 ( – A Vatican official has publicly criticized the outgoing head of Caritas Internationalis after she accused the Vatican of a top-down communication style and suggested it was out of touch with Caritas.

Caritas Secretary-General Lesley-Anne Knight, whose four-year term ends in May, was denied a nihil obstat (“nothing obstructs”) from the Vatican earlier this year, which is required for her to continue in the position.  The Vatican has said a new direction is needed to strengthen the organization’s Catholic identity and its evangelization efforts.

But in a March 1st interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Knight said that with the new emphasis, some Caritas members “might become disillusioned with the confederation, might want to distance themselves from Caritas.”


“Does the Holy See actually know what Caritas is doing?” she asked. 

On Monday, Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” which oversees the Vatican’s charitable efforts, told Catholic News Agency that Knight’s comments could threaten Caritas’ effectiveness.  “Her declarations on the lack of communion with the Holy See might seriously damage the prestige of Caritas Internationalis, especially among the faithful,” he said.

He also criticized Knight for using the media to air concerns about Caritas’ governance, saying this “does not seem to me the best way to treat the various positions.”

While Knight had complained about the little contact Caritas had with Vatican officials, saying that dialogue is “actually a two-way street,” Msgr. Dal Toso retorted that Knight’s use of the media “is one-way communication – not dialogue.”

Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 165 country-based Catholic aid organizations worldwide, including the U.S.’s Catholic Relief Services and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP).

Msgr. Dal Toso explained that the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” envision a “new profile” for Caritas in coming years.  “The next four years envisage Caritas Internationalis engaged in important themes concerning its mission, including the revision of its statutes and internal reform,” he said.

In the NCR interview, Knight had suggested that the millions of dollars the organization receives from Western governments could be jeopardized if they become too explicitly Catholic.  “If the British government, or Sweden or Germany or Canada, is donating millions to Caritas, it’s because they know and trust the value of the work we do with the poor,” she said.  “It’s not because they want to be seen to be supporting a Catholic organization.”

The change in the Vatican’s approach to international aid appears to be part of the general reform project outlined in Pope Benedict’s recent encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth).  The encyclical insisted that human development and foreign aid cannot be separated from the demands of truth, and criticized the fact that many international aid organizations are promoting abortion, contraception, sterilization, and euthanasia.

The CCODP, a Caritas member organization, has come under fire from pro-life groups for supporting organizations that advocate the legalization of abortion, distribute contraceptives, and support homosexualist policies. Knight vigorously defended CCODP after such policies were exposed by LifeSiteNews in early 2009 in a letter sent to donors and obtained by LSN.

In addition, anonymous Vatican officials told LifeSiteNews last November in Rome that similar problems exist with Catholic international aid organizations sponsored by other national bishops’ conferences and that this was a disturbing and unacceptable trend. LifeSiteNews was told that these bishops’ conferences were not conducting proper oversight over their international development and aid organizations resulting in the funding of groups whose objectives are in serious conflict with Catholic teaching.