When will Caritas have a lay president?

Congratulations to Archbishop Tarcisio Kikuchi of Tokyo on his election as the incoming president of Caritas Internationalis for a four year term. He succeeds Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who served two terms – the maximum allowable – beginning in 2015.

Prior to Cardinal Tagle, the Caritas president was Cardinal Oscar Maradiago of Honduras, who also served two terms beginning in 2007.

And prior to Cardinal Maradiaga was the first and only lay person, Denis Viénot, who was elected in 2005 and served only a single term of two years. In fact, Viénot succeeded the Archbishop Youhanna Fouad El-Hagewho died in mid-mandate in 2002.

Now this means that Caritas Internationalis, which was founded as an international institution in 1951, has only had a lay president for two years out of its 72 years of existence, and even then it was only as a stopgap measure following the death of Archbishop El-Hage.

With respect to Archbishop Kikuchi, who I am sure will do an excellent job, the question remains: Why sixty years after Vatican II does Caritas Internationalis apparently still need a cleric as its president?

Are archbishops and cardinals experts in world development, disaster relief or addressing the challenges of poverty? Looking at the list of projects featured on the Caritas homepage, I’m struggling to understand what particular expertise clerics formed in theology and philosophy bring to the table here.

Or is this just another indicator of the difficulty that clerics have to give up the reigns or that the Church has to allow lay people to take responsibility – especially where finance is concerned?

Sixty years after Cardijn published his conciliar book, Laïcs en premières lignes (translated into English as Laymen (Lay people) into Action, I suspect he must be turning in his grave.

By the way, there’s nothing in the Caritas statutes to require a cleric to be president.

The problem in my view is that Caritas inherited its structure from what used to be called the “Italian Catholic Action” model, in contrast with the Cardijn-inspired “Specialised Catholic Action” model, which provided for so much greater lay autonomy.

Yet, surely in the era of synodality it’s time for this to change?

Stefan Gigacz