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Catholic Culture Overview

The scandals surrounding a key papal ally

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 19, 2021 | In Reviews

  • More than six months have passed since the publication of a book that raises damaging questions about the integrity of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga.
  • More than three years have passed since Cardinal Maradiaga’s auxiliary, vicar general, and right-hand man, Bishop Juan José Pineda Fasquelle, resigned following an investigation into charges of sexual and financial misconduct in the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
  • More than three years have also passed since Cardinal Maradiaga himself marked his 75th birthday, and was required by canon law to submit his resignation to Pope Francis.

Today Cardinal Maradiaga remains in office—not only as Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, but also as chairman of the Council of Cardinals, the equivalent of a papal cabinet. He is one of the Pope’s most reliable allies, one of the world’s most influential prelates. He has apparently weathered the storm of criticism that battered his reputation a few years ago; the resignation of his auxiliary seemed to sap the energy of investigators. Yet some serious questions remain unanswered.

Those questions are raised in Sacred Betrayals, a wrenching account written by Martha Alegria Reichmann de Valladares, a longtime friend of the cardinal who has become an outspoken critic. Originally published in Spanish, the book was brought out this year by Faithful Insight publications, in a translation by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman.

The author, Martha Reichmann, is the widow of Allejandro Valladares, who served for years as ambassador from Honduras to the Holy See, eventually becoming the dean of the Vatican diplomatic corps. For years Valladares and Maradiaga were close friends, regularly visiting each other’s offices and homes. The ambassador proudly claimed that his lobbying in Rome had helped make Maradiaga the first Honduran cardinal. In the days before the papal conclave of 2013, Maradiaga spent hours at his country’s embassy in Rome making phone calls to his fellow cardinals, reportedly encouraging support for the future Pope Francis.

The friendship began to fray, however, when Maradiaga persuaded the Valladares family to invest heavily in a scheme that turned sour—and then ignored their pleas for help. Martha Reichmann tells a story of financial collapse and emotional betrayal.

But there is more. The cardinal, too, had invested in the disastrous scheme, and a closer look at his financial dealings uncovered some startling facts. The cardinal had received large monthly payments from the University of Honduras, and although the funds were supposedly intended for the Church, there is no record that they were deposited in archdiocesan accounts. The cardinal, it seems, invested the funds in European financial ventures rather than in his own cash-starved country. His auxiliary, Bishop Pineda, received $1 million from government, for which the archdiocese could not provide a satisfactory accounting.

At roughly the same time that these financial transactions came to light, a group of seminarians in Honduras charged Bishop Pineda with sexual misconduct, saying that they had “irrefutable evidence” of a powerful homosexual network in the archdiocese. The subsequent furor triggered a Vatican inquiry, and although the results of that investigation remain unknown, Bishop Pineda resigned in 2018 at the comparatively young age of 58.

But did the buck stop there? Could the cardinal-archbishop have been unaware of the corruption exposed in his own archdiocese? Could he escape scrutiny for investing Honduran government funds abroad, in questionable schemes? Cardinal Maradiaga has declined to answer questions about his involvement in the archdiocesan scandals. When Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register pressed the matter, the cardinal denounced the reporters as a “hit man”—evoking memories of an earlier blast at reporters, in 2002, when he had dismissed reports on the emerging sex-abuse scandal as ”persecution against the Church” by an “openly anti-Catholic” media mob.

Sacred Betrayals makes the case that Cardinal Maradiaga has abused his power, and done so with impunity because he enjoys the protection of Pope Francis. In a pontificate dedicated to reform, his presence at the head of the Pope’s circle of advisers is an anomaly. Or is it?

In a foreword to the Reichmann book, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano asks rhetorically why the Washington Post has not interviewed the author, or pressed the Vatican for more information about the investigation in Tegucigalpa, or held Cardinal Maradiaga responsible for the scandal in his archdiocese. Good questions, those—and not only for the Post.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 20, 2021 8:21 AM ET USA

    There is a pattern of Francis' very strange, self-imposed obligation to grant favors and reward at any cost all those who helped in his election and those who keep defending his ongoing blunders. That behavior does not convey Catholic understanding and teaching about the role of the Vicar of Christ, which is primarily that of a single-minded, ever-faithful servant in truth to God and to God's People.