Int'l Catholic press union loses Vatican recognition

VATICAN CITY -- The Pontifical Council for the Laity has withdrawn the canonical recognition of the International Catholic Union of the Press as a Catholic organization because of operational irregularities.

"It is a disaster from a functional point of view," said Guzman Carriquiry, undersecretary of the council.

Carriquiry told Catholic News Service April 20 that the council's decision had nothing to do with questions involving faith or morals but were motivated by questions involving the rights of members and the transparency of UCIP's staff and top officers.

"For too long, the association has not functioned, and too many Catholic journalists and organizations have abandoned it for this reason," he said.

In a letter March 23, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, council president, and Bishop Josef Clemens, council secretary, outlined the Vatican concerns to Bernhard Sassmann, UCIP president. The council sent copies of the letter to UCIP members March 25.

Contacted by CNS April 20 while he was traveling in Spain, Sassmann said UCIP would release a detailed statement after Easter, because the laity council's action was based on "misinformation and lies, which are awful for me."

The letter from Cardinal Rylko and Bishop Clemens said the laity council, in consultation with the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Vatican Secretariat of State, revoked its "recognition decree" and "from now on, the UCIP will have to remove from its name the adjective Catholic."

The council said it had been following UCIP closely since 2007 "to resolve the situation of crisis," but despite communicating its concerns and giving concrete suggestions, it felt obliged to declare invalid the UCIP general assemblies of 2007, 2008 and 2010.

The council said that while the UCIP officers reported that 1,000 people attended the 2010 world congress and general assembly in Burkina Faso, they failed to tell the Vatican that "only 14 UCIP members holding voting rights were present" and only 24 others sent proxies.

The Vatican letter also said that only two of the six members of the UCIP presidency attended the meeting and that Sassmann, the president, was absent.

In the end, it said, Joseph Calstas-Chittilappilly, the secretary general, ran the meeting.

The council said it "raises many perplexities" that Calstas-Chittalappilly was given the responsibility to run the assembly when the council had asked that the gathering make the organization more responsive to its members, in part by changing Calstas-Chittalappilly's job, which is the only paid staff position at UCIP and is a job he has held for 15 years.

"It is evident that the UCIP is an association completely in the hands of the general secretary. The facts show that he is trying to hold on to his job. Through the lack of transparency and of communications and information (that is) biased and false, he has been manipulating as he wills the associative life of the UCIP," the council's letter said.

In recent years, some major Catholic press organizations have withdrawn association in the union based on similar concerns. The Catholic Press Association in the United States pulled out in March 2009.

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