The widow of a former dean of the Vatican diplomatic corps has written an exposé accusing one of Pope Francis’ closest aides of betraying her family and covering up for grave misconduct.
Martha Alegria Reichmann, whose late husband, Alejandro Valladares, was the Honduran ambassador to the Holy See for 22 years, explains in the book, Sacred Betrayal, how they were once close friends of Cardinal Óscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, the longtime archbishop of Tegucigalpa.
Her book, so far only in Spanish, chronicles how the cardinal, who is coordinator of the “council of cardinals” advising the Holy Father on Church reform, advised her to make a bad financial investment that caused her to lose her life savings. She also provides details of the cardinal’s support for Bishop Juan Josè Pineda, who has been accused of sexual abuse of seminarians, living in active homosexual relationships and financial impropriety. Pope Francis accepted Bishop Pineda’s resignation last July, but no details of any disciplinary measures have been revealed.
The Register spoke to Alegria March 26.
Mrs. Alegria, what are your reasons for writing this book?
First of all, because, following the fraud, I suffered; and the consequent betrayal of Cardinal Maradiaga to my family: I discovered a dark side in him, and I could not live in peace and serenity for the rest of my life without having made this public denunciation; because my Christian, ethical and moral principles did not allow me to keep quiet about such terrible things — that would have made me responsible for a cover-up; because to declare what I know and what they have done to me is not only a right that I have, but a duty; because I am a victim of the corrupt system that reigns in the current papacy.
I do not limit myself to telling my painful experience. I go much further because there are things that many people don’t know for lack of information; also, because the wicked triumph when the righteous are silent; and because God himself is being mocked.
Why did you choose the title Sacred Betrayal?
Because I have been betrayed by people who carry a sacred investiture: former Bishop Juan Josè Pineda, Cardinal Oscar Andrès Rodrìguez Maradiaga and Pope Francis — three people I trusted blindly. In my book, everything is very well explained and demonstrated. There’s no doubt that’s how it was.
Cardinal Maradiaga is the coordinator of the “council of cardinals”; and despite being beyond retirement age, he is still archbishop of Tegucigalpa. Considering the allegations against him — all of which he denies — why do you think he remains in these positions?
In my book, I explain how the Vatican maneuvered so that Maradiaga would not be officially implicated as Pineda’s concealer; that way he could be kept in the “council of cardinals.” That was a grotesque action and a mockery of honesty because they gave him impunity.
The Pope has acted against cover-ups on very few occasions, only when the external pressure is very strong, as happened in Chile. In contrast, in Honduras, the cardinal has the media in his favor, and they do not report any of the denunciations against him. As for the few media that denounce, the cardinal calls them slanderers, and the fanatics and naive believe him in spite of so much evidence, although, little by little, they are becoming convinced of the truth.
I am just a widow to whom neither Maradiaga nor Francis have given importance because they do not practice the Gospel as it should be. It seems that the teachings of Christ have gone out of fashion and the devil reigns. The reasons for this terrible situation are revealed in my book, and it’s something frightening.
Why do you think Cardinal Maradiaga has been so protective of Bishop Pineda?
The causes of this extreme protection and concealment that has lasted almost 20 years are incomprehensible and unjustified from every point of view. Therefore, each person interprets it in his own way, and they make conjectures and accusations that harm the cardinal tremendously and, consequently, the Church.
There can be nothing good in that extreme protection. This is one of the reasons why Maradiaga has lost respect and credibility in a good part of the Honduran population.
Why do you think Pope Francis has dealt differently with Cardinal Maradiaga compared to other cardinals implicated in scandal?
Cardinal [Francisco Javier] Erràzuriz had only one accusation against him, for which he was removed from the “council of cardinals,” but he is Chilean. Maradiaga has several serious, very serious accusations, but in Honduras there has not been the pressure that there was in Chile, and they limited themselves to eliminating Pineda.
The Pope keeps him by his side because perhaps he needs his bad advice, because he has punished those who have given him good advice, such as Father Thomas Weinandy, one of the most prestigious theologians in the world who was removed from his post in the United States Episcopal Conference [USCCB].
What do you believe are the underlying causes of the financial and spiritual corruption you refer to in the book?
Maradiaga is very powerful because he has the absolute support of someone much more powerful, who is Pope Francis. This is the reason why it is very easy for him to manage a dictatorship in the diocese as he pleases; he solves many problems by just saying: “These are slanders” or “They are attacking me so as to attack the Pope.”
The reasons are: that Maradiaga has a dark side that he has been able to hide very well all his life and that he has a double morality that nobody could imagine, except his victims.
Whoever reads my book will be surprised and convinced of this because of what I tell there, I demonstrate, and Maradiaga will no longer be able to continue saying his hackneyed phrases: “They are calumnies”; “They attack me so as to attack the Pope.”
What are your hopes for the future? What needs to be done to ensure that the Honduran Church will recover from the corruption that you write about?
The hope, not only mine, but of many Catholics and many priests in Honduras, is that Maradiaga will be replaced by a pastor who has a fear of God, who makes a general cleaning for a fresh start, taking into account moral principles, honesty and transparency, both in finances and spiritually — a shepherd who is humble of heart, energetic, transparent, kind and just.
Whoever replaces Maradiaga will have a very difficult task because everything that is crooked will have to be straightened out. I am sure that these are the hopes also of many of the teachers and students of the Catholic University [of Honduras], especially the students of the faculty of medicine, who are going through terrible difficulties and have told Maradiaga that if it weren’t for the large amounts of money that he has drained from the university, they wouldn’t be going through so many calamities.
At the Catholic University, there is a lot to clean up, too. When? Maybe not till we have another pope, or maybe if Pope Francis put into practice all those beautiful phrases that he knows how to say and that are blown away like clouds that disappear into nothingness. As for my personal situation, I hope and trust only in God. I have abandoned myself to him with the absolute certainty that he will answer me. God is merciful. God is just. God works miracles. ... “God alone is enough.”
This may be hard to answer, but some might ask themselves whether you've written the book and perhaps exaggerated some of its content in order to make it a best-seller and thereby regain some of the money you lost. What would you say to such an accusation?
Do not worry; maybe it is difficult to ask the question, but, for me, it is very easy to answer it. What is more, the harder they are, the more I like them because I always act based on the truth.
In my book I explain that I started writing it in 2016 just to have a psychological relief from everything I was living through; but as I discovered more and more things, all terrible and surprising, I added them in. I had a time of doubt, whether to publish it or not, and put it in the hands of God. Finally, I made the decision to do so because of an attitude of total injustice and cowardice that Cardinal Maradiaga showed, which angered me very much. This is told and demonstrated with evidence, and my lawyer has the audio of what he said. It was a terrible slander against one of his victims, and that was not me.
Everything that is written is not exaggerated. I just narrated the facts exactly as they are, and those that needed to be proved are proved. I can assure this with great force and a lot of certainty, and whoever thinks otherwise, I challenge him to prove it to me, but with proofs, just as I have done. Last week I read an article, in the ConfidentialHN newspaper, by a person who read the book and says that I fell short with the title I gave it.
There I do not say anything for the sake of saying it. I do not leave anything in the air. If I say that the cardinal was never our friend, I show it. If I say that my husband was the one who had the idea and carried it out, to get him to become a cardinal, I prove it. If I say that in Rome they are demanding the removal of Maradiaga while in Honduras there is a cover-up for him, I show it. In the book there are very strong accusations and terrible revelations, but after everything, I give the evidence. So nothing is either invented or exaggerated. What is more, there are cases that are terrible and I did not include them because I do not have the evidence.
In Honduras a book came out shortly before mine, more or less the same size and number of pages with a cost of 600 [Honduran lempira, about $25] a copy. My book has a cost of L. 350 [about $14]. Almost half. Copies are selling well enough, but whether it becomes a success or not does not depend on me. That depends only on God. I did it with my conscience; I did it with the truth in my hand; I did it for dignity, for conviction and for love of God. I started with a sentence by Edmund Burke that says: “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” Yes, I would like it to have a wide sale and that no one takes advantage of it. That I do make clear.
The fact that I did not accept a large amount of money in the past, that Maradiaga offered me, was because I believe that the money of the Church is for the poor. It was an act of sincerity and honesty that I am sure God will take into account, but I honestly do not think that applies to the book. God has his ways and knows how to act in his own time.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.