Bishop Bhai Articles

Caritas India and Regionalisation
Archbishop Leobard D’Souza


There is currently a move being proposed by the directors of diocesan social services agencies toward reorganizing Caritas India into six to twelve regional operations. These regions would have total responsibility for selecting and funding welfare, emergency, development, and income-generating projects. They would also be responsible for the programs which teach people to become public participants in taking their destinies into their own hands [animation, empowerment], and providing the several other services now offered directly by Caritas India. The position of this paper is that this regionalisation will be disastrous for the Church, the country at large, and Caritas itself. In a time when the country and the Church need a global vision to act effectively at the local level, this move would cave into the regionalism and communalism which is rife in the country. Rather than being a counter-cultural option to this fragmentation of society in India, Caritas, and the Church through it, will be one more agency of disruption of the social order. This movement toward regionalisation is not new. A brief history of the proposal begins this inquiry.

In the month of March 1976, the Standing Committee of CBCI, which is the Council of Caritas India, set up a review committee (Cf. Agenda of General Body Meeting, CBCI, Mangalore, January 9-17, p. 64) . The review committee consisted of Archbishop Henry D’Souza ,Chairman, Professor Paul Manipilly, Miss Dorothy Baker, and Monsignor Eustace D’Lima, Secretary (Cf. Report of the Governing Body of CBCI, Mangalore, January 9-17, p. 106; for a detailed description of the proposals see the Agenda of the Governing Body of CBCI, Mangalore, January 9-17, 1978, pp. 71, 72, 73 para.1; in the archives of Caritas India, the report of this review committee can be found in No. 3-31, 3-32, 3-33, pp. 41, 44, and 45). This information was presented to the Standing Committee meeting in Bangalore, April 22-29, 1977. Page 12 of this report makes clear that “not all were in favour of the decentralisation into Regional Secretariats proposed in the report. If this had to be done, then the regionalisation should proceed gradually and cautiously.” The Standing Committee also decided to ask the Governing Body of Caritas India to appoint a small committee of bishops and/or others to study the feasibility of suggestions made in the Report and the suggestions made in the he Report and their implementation in a phased way”.

In the report of the Governing Body of CBCI, Mangalore, January 9-12, 1978, the following information appears on p. 108. “There was a lively discussion about these proposals. Several bishops warned that excessive stress on regionalisation might tend to weaken the structure of Caritas India at the Centre.” On p. 10, the report states, “The discussions were merely to elicit the views of the members of the house. Final decision would be taken by the Standing Committee, which, according to the Statutes of Caritas India, is the Council of Caritas India.” The report of the meeting of the Governing Body of CBCI at Ranchi, October 17-25. 1979, p. 32, states clearly, “Naturally the process of re-orientation is not an easy one.” Various reports of the CBCI in 1980, 81, passim, make clear that the bishops have apprehensions about regionalisation. One must wonder why the Standing Committee did not actively implement the process of regionalisation much before this time unless they had serious concerns about it. Also, while this paper does not go into the differences of the original review committee report and that proposed by the present director, this work should be done by persons interested in analysing the implications of regionalisation. Any cursory reading of two positions makes clear that the former is specific and concrete, and the latter exceedingly vague.

It also needs to be stated that the confusion between the work of diocesan Caritas operations and that of the National Centre are also not new. References to the report of the Governing Body of CBCI, Madras, April 6-16, 1972, especially p. 92 and p. 153, refer to this thorny issue. If regionalisation is so urgent a requirement for a more effective operation of Caritas India, one is left wondering why in almost twenty years it has not happened before now.

The directors of Regional Forums who are pushing for regionalisation have suggested that there should be three zonal operations, expanded eventually to six, and then to twelve. They are proposing a timetable of two to three years to effect this. What is likely at the root of this request is that the members of the Forums feel left out in terms of what they feel must be brought to the attention of the Project Selection Committee. They were, indeed, established to provide consultation and information to the Central Office and by and large this has not happened. The Director has made visits to many of the regions but this has not been systematic and there has been no national consultation with them until the meeting of February 9 and 10, 1998. The agenda of this meeting was prepared by two members of the Regional Forums who are also members of the Project Selection Committee. The minutes of this meeting are appended to this paper.

It must be admitted that Caritas India has not used these resources effectively. Rather than establish zonal and regional offices, however. would it not make more sense to take the meetings of the Project Selection Committee out of Delhi and to the six zones proposed by the directors? This would give national experts the opportunity to meet with diocesan directors of multi-purpose service centres, and with the Caritas regional officers. Since the project selections are made about six times a year, a cycle of rotations could be set up so that all members of the committee experience the regions on a regular basis and have the opportunity to see the areas where projects are being requested, and, indeed, as importantly, being implemented. It would surely be no less expensive to have members of the committee travel to these regions than to Delhi.

A further benefit would accrue because members of the selection committee could serve as local resources during such visitations and provide the various dynamics courses, courses for the upliftment of women, and the other services being offered by Caritas India. The major gift would be that all selections would continue to be made with national, and indeed, international concerns in mind.

It is essential to understand that a strong central organisation does not mean per se that local needs are by-passed. In fact, there is now considerable evidence that many grass-roots movements fail because of lack of a strong central organisation providing the services which can only be offered through this kind of resource (Harrison Owen, Spirit: Transformation and Development in Organizations, Abbott Publishing: Potomac, Maryland, 1987, passim, and Brian P. Hall, “Mapping Organizations”, in Edges: New Planetary Patterns, CICA: Toronto, Ontario, August 1997, pp. 1-8). The downside of “networking”, which is the proposal of regionalisation is a lack of structure. With limited structure, consensus is more difficult to create. Accountability can slip, and with it, quality work. Neither Caritas India, the Church in India, nor the country at large can afford this kind of lack of accountability at any level!

Further, regionalisation will make of Caritas India a glorified post office. It is no secret that many funding agencies want those receiving their grants to take their directions while giving the illusion that they are partners and that the local persons are autonomous and in control. Without a strong body of professionals functioning from a central location, we can only expect to see more of this imposition of the norms of the funding partners on local personnel.

What is the morality of using monies which have been contributed for the poor of our country for the purchasing of building materials and supplies and the employment of regional officers more than are in place at the present moment? Given the unemployment and under-employment in India, do we not risk establishing one more bureaucracy, open to the corrupting influences so prevalent in those which now exist?

What will keep regions from by-passing the central office of Caritas and doing their own soliciting of foreign funds? Indian Catholics now have a reputation abroad of being unashamed “beggars”! Do we want this image to worsen?

Caritas India has stood for a system of checks and balances from a strong centre, with programmes to assure the sustainable development of all peoples. Can regions really be depended upon to serve the interests of their whole country or only those who are members of their particular linguistic group? According to the Holy Father’s letter of February 1, 1986, central agencies such as Caritas must exist for the benefit of the national body. They may not be divided into ritual ecclessial bodies, and what else will regional offices be but serving the rites of their linguistic groups? This again, is a clear violation of the principle of national unity of all ecclessial undertakings to which the CBCI and Caritas India have been and are committed.

In Europe, the bishops divided emergency and calamities from social development. Two separate organisations were established. In India we had from the beginning only one body dealing with both issues. Now Europe sees the wisdom of joining their bodies from the growing lessons being learned that emergency issues cannot be tackled permanently if people are not built up through rehabilitation and using the emergency to bring people together. They cannot face emergency situations without falling apart. The European and North American bishops are beginning to see that welfare, development, emergency, and income-generating issues are all pieces of one pie. Why would we then want to abandon something which we realised so many years ago and have been promoting effectively?
The volume of money that regions can request is anyone’s guess. They will likely pass on huge budgets to the Centre which the Centre will have no way of evaluating nor will donor agencies be able to do so. Again, dioceses with better writers of projects, and more experienced public relations officers will likely secure funds which weaker dioceses will not.

Integral human development, a vital facet of evengelisation and of the work of Caritas, is not sectarian. It is addressed to all irrespective of caste, creed, and community. It touches every person, the whole person in the Indian union. We are bound by this legal undertaking, in fact, to qualify under the Income Tax regulation for exemptions. Can we guarantee that regions will abide by this requirement both religious and federal or will sectarian interests and ritual interests prevail?

Caritas India has pledge to reach out to people in need in times of emergency and natural calamities. Human need of this sort requires a strong and well equipped central operation to meet these kinds of needs. Meeting emergencies at a regional or zonal level are likely to be partial, inadequate, and very slow.

Caritas has been built up brick by brick at no small effort in the face of misunderstanding, providing a strong organisation respected by governments, funding agencies, and NGOs, at home and abroad. Weaker dioceses find strength through it while the more mature diocesan can grow in strength. A weakened national body will above all hurt the weaker dioceses. For all of these reasons, regionalisation was turned down by the Standing Committee meeting with wisdom at its sessions in the mid-seventies. It would appear that there is an even greater urgency to turn down the request now, especially given the country’s increasing fragmentation.

The recommendation I make is simple. It must be obvious that regionalisation is no more desirable now than it was twenty years ago when it first began to be discussed. What is necessary is that Caritas India itself become more of a learning agency than it is now. To do that the persons at the Central Office need to move much more around India, looking, listening, learning, and sharing with local persons the dynamic of authentic integral human development. Experts from the Central Office can and must take their skills to all the regions. An obvious need is to offer courses in social analysis, public participation, participative management, the writing of proposals, among others. Central Office personnel should limit their travel abroad and invite partners to travel with them throughout India. They must invite partners to learn from and with Indians at least as much as we are expected to learn from and with them. A strong central agency can effect this. For the sake of the country, in particular its peoples on the margins of political, social, and economic life, one can only hope that regionalisation does not happen.

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