Lesley-Anne Knight

Lesley-Anne Knight

February 28, 2011

VATICAN CITY — Vatican officials have prevented the secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis from seeking a second four-year term.

Lesley-Anne Knight, a British citizen born in Zimbabwe, did not receive the necessary approval, or nihil obstat (“nothing stands in the way”), in January when she submitted her name as a candidate to continue in the position with the Church’s worldwide aid and development organization.

No specific reason for the denial was offered by the Vatican in a statement released late Feb. 18 in Rome.

“The Holy See wants a change in the way it works with Caritas and says this requires a change in the person of the secretary-general,” the statement said.

“The Holy See has therefore not granted Mrs. Knight the nihil obstat to seek another mandate,” the statement said.

The Vatican acknowledged “the professional work done and achievements of Mrs. Knight” but said nothing more about its relationship with the secretary-general.

Elections for the position of secretary-general and international president, which is held by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, are set for late May in Rome during Caritas Internationalis’ quadrennial general assembly.

Knight spoke at the Feb. 17 Nothing More Beautiful session in Edmonton, but word that she was denied a second term as Caritas’ executive-director did not become public until after she had left town.

Knight was to speak at other events in Edmonton and across North America but cancelled about 10 days prior to her Edmonton visit.

Submitting the names of candidates for the two positions is normally considered routine. However, the Vatican acted to block Knight’s candidacy.

In an attempt to keep her candidacy alive, the Caritas Internationalis bureau met Feb. 5 and asked Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, to discuss the issue, according to the statement.

Although representatives of Bertone met several times with Rodriguez, and other Caritas representatives, the initial decision remained unchanged, the statement said.

“The bureau deeply regrets the decision of the Holy See,” the Vatican statement added.

“The bureau thanks Mrs. Knight for the professional work, her accomplishments and commitment to Caritas Internationalis.”

The Tablet, a British magazine covering the Catholic Church, reported Feb. 18 that an unidentified official with a Caritas member agency suggested Knight may have been rejected because she had made comments that were “critical of the Vatican machine, has made no secret of it and has failed to be discreet.”

The magazine quoted a second unidentified Caritas source as saying Vatican officials were concerned Knight had not done enough to instill a Catholic identity or to develop a sense of evangelization in Caritas programs.


The Tablet cited difficulties with the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican’s charity promotion agency.

Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, past president of the council, designated Caritas member Catholic Relief Services to coordinate the Church’s relief efforts in Haiti after the devastating January 2010 earthquake.

The Tablet reported Cordes never consulted with Knight or her office before announcing the decision two weeks after the disaster and said Knight made no secret of her displeasure with the choice.