Pope Francis aside, there is no more prominent Latin American Catholic than Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga. The Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, is president of the Church’s worldwide charity arm, Caritas. In the 1990s, he served as president of the Latin American bishops’ conference. Francis himself has given Cardinal Maradiaga yet another high position: he coordinates the Pope’s Council of Cardinals, the “C9”.
All of which makes the recent allegations of financial mismanagement against Cardinal Maradiaga a major story. The cardinal has denied the claims, saying that they are “calumnious”. He told the Honduran Church’s television channel that the Pope agreed with him. “I’m sorry for all the evil they have done against you,” Francis reportedly told the cardinal, “but don’t worry.”
The central accusations relate to how Cardinal Maradiaga received funds, and how he dispensed them. According to L’Espresso, the Italian magazine which levelled the claims just before Christmas, Cardinal Maradiaga was receiving about $40,000 (£30,000) a month from the Catholic University of Tegucigalpa – of which he is grand chancellor. (The cardinal said this money went to the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, not him personally, and was spent on good causes.)
The other big claim is that Cardinal Maradiaga deposited more than a million dollars in London bank accounts, from where it then disappeared. Cardinal Maradiaga has categorically denied all wrongdoing.
Nobody doubts that the journalist making the claims, Emiliano Fittipaldi, understands the Church’s internal affairs. His articles on the misuse of Church funds, and a widely covered book, Avarizia, have been greeted as serious exposés. In this case, he claims to have based the allegations on a report sent to Pope Francis by the papal nuncio to Honduras, Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa. However, Cardinal Maradiaga points out that Fittipaldi failed to ask him for comment before publishing the story.
Nevertheless, the situation is odd: as Phil Lawler put it at the Catholic Culture website, “How does a Catholic university, in an impoverished country, have $40,000 a month to spare?”
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