New head of Vatican charity Caritas looks to future after papal firings

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The new head of Caritas Internationalis said Tuesday that the Vatican’s preeminent charity would look to the future of its global aid mission, seeking to close out a tumultuous period that prompted Pope Francis to oust the previous leadership team.

The Vatican presented the charity’s new hierarchy following elections by representatives of the 162 national Caritas chapters, who met in Rome starting last week. It was the first general assembly since Francis in November removed the Caritas president, vice presidents, secretary general, treasurer and ecclesiastic assistant after an outside investigation into bullying complaints found management problems at the Rome headquarters.

The new secretary-general, Alistair Dutton, acknowledged the chapter representatives had questions about the pope’s unusual intervention and that he himself feared walking into an assembly “where people were angry and frustrated and were looking backwards.”

But he said the spirit of the meeting was instead one of a family looking to learn from the past and move forward.

“I know the past is there, but we really haven’t dwelt on it,” Dutton told reporters. “We’ve been trying to look now to the future.”

Dutton, a British former Jesuit novice, spoke alongside the new Caritas president, Tokyo Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, treasurer Patrick De Bucquois of Belgium and Kirsty Robertson, who becomes the organization’s first woman vice president.

Robertson, head of the Caritas’ Australia branch, said it was particularly significant for a woman to hold the position that represents Caritas in official, Catholic Church events that are often dominated by male clerics.

“The face of poverty is the face of a woman,” she told reporters. “Therefore, it is only right and just, I think, to see the face of women at all levels in our confederation.”

Dutton acknowledged there had also been a concerted search for a woman from the global South to head the organization as secretary-general. But he said he heard from national representatives who voted for him, including delegates who had pushed for a woman head, that he had the skills necessary to get the job done.

Dutton replaces Aloysius John, a French citizen of Indian descent who was ousted in November after staff at the Caritas headquarters complained of a toxic work environment. On the eve of the general assembly, John accused the Vatican of staging a “brutal power grab” fueled by a “colonialist” attitude of northern, wealthy Caritas chapters over poorer ones in the developing world.

In a sign that the global South had not fully moved on, John’s ecclesiastic assistant, who was also ousted in November, the Rev. Pierre Cibambo, was elected by African Caritas leaders to be their regional Caritas Africa representative.

Dutton said he viewed the election as “a marker being put down by Africa,” to keep Cibambo in a leadership position, but that he didn’t anticipate problems.

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