One of Pope Francis’ chief advisers on Church reform has rejected allegations of financial corruption made in an Italian publication this week, but questions remain over diocesan accounting procedures, and his close ties with one of his bishops who is accused of misappropriating vast amounts of diocesan funds and illicit relationships.
Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, a member of the Pope’s Council of Nine Cardinals, told CNA Dec. 22 he was a victim of “calumnies” which included allegations, repeated in the Italian magazine L’Espresso Dec. 21, that he had received $600,000 from the University of Tegucigalpa in 2015, as a sort of “salary” for being the chancellor of the University. The cardinal, who is archbishop of Tegucigalpa, was also accused of losing nearly $1.2 million of Church funds through investments in some London financial companies.
He asserted that the money from the university (amounting to $41,400 a month) was not given to him personally but to the archdiocese and transferred in the name of the archdiocese. He said the funds went to pay for seminarians’ tuition, property maintenance, and rural or poor priests.
Cardinal Maradiaga also denied making “any investment” as the ones he is accused of losing money on, and stressed the university had grown in size while he’d been archbishop.
Honduran Catholic officials have said the financial irregularities are aimed at discrediting the archbishop; the Vatican, meanwhile, confirmed Friday that Francis had ordered an investigation.
So far, no results of the investigation have been made public, and questions remain over exactly how these funds were spent as there is no accounting to refer to. Some details of archdiocesan income and expenditure were passed on to Pope Francis during the Honduran bishops’ ad limina visit in September. The documents, which the Register has obtained, show general figures denoting gross income for the archdiocese and spending running into millions of dollars, but with no particulars.
One source with a detailed knowledge of the issue told the Register the documentation omits $1.3 million that the Honduran government gave the archdiocese to be spent on Church projects.
The money is alleged to have found its way into the hands of Auxiliary Bishop Juan José Pineda of Tegucigalpa, a close friend of the cardinal, but no accounting exists detailing how the money was spent.
Bishop Pineda has long been the subject of accusations of financial mismanagement, and rumors that he financially supports a male companion using archdiocesan funds. Some have alleged that he had an apartment built on the campus of the Catholic University of Honduras, in order to house this companion, according to CNA.
The bishop has said he wanted an investigation to clear his name, but the Register has been told he is a “cancer” for the cardinal due to these accusations, including misappropriating funds for a number of “intimate” friends. These relationships are said to be of “far greater concern” than the allegations of financial impropriety.
“The cardinal’s relationship with Pineda is very close and the cardinal defends him across the board,” an informed source told the Register Dec. 23. One of the bishop’s close companions, called “Mike,” is said to be a police chaplain and has celebrated the sacraments for a number of years, despite not being ordained, nor even a Catholic. “The cardinal knows everything,” the source said.
The Vatican’s Investigation
L’Espresso reported that on hearing of the allegations, Pope Francis sent retired Argentine Bishop Alcides Jorge Pedro Casaretto, 80, as an apostolic envoy to Honduras last May.
The Register has been told that Bishop Casaretto was shocked by the extent of the corruption he discovered, including accounts of sexual abuse perpetrated against priests and seminarians. The bishop sent the Pope a report on the archdiocese based on the testimonies of more than 50 witnesses, including diocesan staff members and priests, according to L’Espresso.
As well as the Pope, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the third highest official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, were all informed.
Vatican and Honduran sources say on receiving the report, the Pope decided to take the matter into his own hands rather than have a commission or a more extensive apostolic visitation deal with it further, but so far the only action that has been taken has been to send Bishop Pineda to stay with Jesuits in Madrid on a short retreat.
When the claims became public knowledge, the apostolic nuncio, Tanzanian Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, began looking into the allegations against Bishop Pineda and Cardinal Maradiaga. The Register tried to contact the nuncio but was unable to reach him.
Cardinal Maradiaga turns 75 Dec. 29, and many will be looking to see if the Pope will accept the Honduran cardinal’s mandatory resignation which he is obliged to submit on turning 75.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.