VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has released an apostolic letter on charitable activities that asks bishops to improve their supervision of local charities and ensure that these groups’ work does not contradict Catholic teaching.
The Pope’s six-page letter, released Nov. 1, notes the duty of the diocesan bishops and parish priests to see that in charitable service the faithful “are not led into error or misunderstanding.”
Bishops and parish priests “are to prevent publicity being given through parish or diocesan structures to initiatives which, while presenting themselves as charitable, propose choices or methods at odds with the Church’s teaching,” he said.
The Pope’s motu proprio letter, a document written on the Pope’s own initiative, gives new regulations on how to better organize the Church's charitable activities.
“I intend to provide an organic legislative framework for the better overall ordering of the various organized ecclesial forms of the service of charity,” said the Pope, referring to those organizations closely related to the ministry of the bishop and the “diaconal nature” of the Church.
“These works should always be welcomed by the Church's leaders as a sign of the sharing of all the faithful in the mission of the Church,” he added.
The Pope noted that the diversity of those initiatives is “a manifestation of the freedom of the baptized, who use their own unique gifts to respond to the call of charity.”
The Holy Father said that these initiatives must adhere to Catholic teaching, conform to the intentions of the faithful and respect legitimate civil regulation, adding that it is the bishops’ responsibility to ensure this.
“Above all, it's important to remember that practical actions are never enough,” he said.
“Charity must express a genuine love for people, a love animated by a personal encounter with Christ,” Pope Benedict said, warning that Catholic charities must avoid becoming “just another form of organized social assistance.”
“In carrying out charitable works, the Catholic organizations shouldn't limit themselves merely to collecting and distributing funds, but should also show special concern for individuals in need,” he continued.
“They should exercise a valuable educational function within the Christian community, helping people to appreciate the importance of sharing, respect and love in the spirit of the Gospel of Christ.”
The Pope had specific praise for Caritas, which works in disaster relief and in human development. He said that Caritas is an organization that has earned the esteem and trust of people around the world for its “generous and consistent witness of faith and ability to respond to the needs of the poor.”
“The bishop is to encourage in every parish of his territory the creation of a local Caritas service or a similar body, which will also promote in the whole community educational activities aimed at fostering a spirit of sharing and authentic charity,” he said.
The U.S. members of Caritas are Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities U.S.A.
Pope Benedict said there are charities that differ widely from each other, but are all “expressions of sensitivity and a desire to respond to the same pressing need."