By Bill Heaney
Alistair Dutton, the head of Scotland’s Catholic aid agency Sciaf, has been elected the next secretary-general of Caritas, the organisation that coordinates the Church’s work to serve the poor and promote social justice.
His election marks a new phase for Caritas Internationalis after the entire leadership team, including the former secretary-general Aloysius John, was sacked by Pope Francis amid complaints about the workplace environment.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the president, was relieved of his duties, although he retained a role liaising with Caritas.
Last year The Tablet spoke to one former member of staff who spoke of a “chaotic and toxic environment” at the Caritas headquarters, while another said it was a place where a culture of “bullying and incompetence” had been allowed to develop.
The previous head of SCIAF was the late Cardinal Keith O’Brien of St Andrews and Edinburgh archdiocese, who resigned in disgrace.
Cardinal O’Brien, pictured right, had strong connections with West Dunbartonshire and was a former pupil of St Patrick’s High School in Cardross Road, Dumbarton. He was up in Ireland and Dalmuir.
Mr Dutton was elected during the Caritas general assembly at the Hotel Ergife in Rome. Cardinal Michael Czerny, who leads the Vatican office overseeing Caritas, told the assembly that good works cannot “justify or excuse” shortcomings at head office, but that the dismissals did not reflect the work Caritas does on the ground.
Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic aid and development agencies, including Cafod in England and Wales, Sciaf in Scotland and Trócaire in Ireland. It operates in 200 counties, and the meeting in Rome was made up of around 400 delegates.
Its work serving the poorest and most vulnerable communities across the globe means it is sometimes described as the “jewel in the crown” of the Church and a living, breathing example the message of the Gospel in action.
Along with a new secretary-general, Caritas also elected the Archbishop of Tokyo, Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi as its president. Kirsty Robertson of Caritas Australia becomes the vice president.
“Caritas has been my home, my family and my vocation for nearly three decades,” Mr Dutton said following his election.
“I look forward to bringing the whole Caritas family together as one: one Caritas family serving one human family.”
One staff member who left Caritas during Mr John’s tenure is Andrew Azzopardi, the head of safeguarding and integrity from June 2019 to June 2020. He has applauded the decision by the Pope to remove the Caritas leadership.
Mr Azzopardi wrote on Twitter that Mr Dutton’s appointment was a “new chapter”, describing the incoming secretary-general as “a person of integrity and someone who will make Caritas proud”.
While the president is an archbishop or cardinal who seeks to promote the work of Caritas, the day-to-day running of Caritas Internationalis in Rome is left to the secretary-general. Caritas is under the auspices of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and is located in offices in the Piazza San Calisto in Rome’s Trastevere neighbourhood.
Mr Dutton worked in Rome as humanitarian director for Caritas Internationalis before joining Sciaf as its chief executive in 2014.
He studied Physics at the University of Durham and Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford. He also spent a period as a Jesuit novice and worked for the Jesuit Refugee Service.
Mr Dutton has worked in over 30 countries and has over 25 years of experience in the aid sector. He also follows in the footsteps of another Sciaf leader who become secretary-general of Caritas – Duncan MacLaren, who held the position from 1999-2007.