A top papal adviser known for his tirades against capitalism and the wealthy is under investigation by the Vatican after reports that he has been receiving over $40,000 US per month from the Catholic University of Tegucigalpa and had allegedly invested amounts of over $1 million in companies in London that “later vanished into thin air.” According to Di Emiliano Fittipaldi of Italy’s L’Espresso, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras — the coordinator of the pope’s C9 council — has fallen under the scrutiny of the pope himself since the allegations have surfaced – allegations that implicate him in the receipt of nearly $600,000 a year for up to a decade from the university at which he holds the title of “Grand Chancellor.” Despite his advocacy for the poor at the expense of the rich, when asked in a 2014 interview about the wealth of the German Church — also closely tied to the Francis pontificate — Maradiaga responded that “helping the poor does not mean being poor”. In that same interview, he nevertheless blamed the wealthy in America and Europe for the 2008 financial collapse.
Of all the members of the pope’s inner circle, it has been Maradiaga who stood out as the most enthusiastic proponent and enforcer of the pope’s agenda. He identified himself early on in his role in the papacy as a staunch progressive force, and has continued to make public statements that reinforce that impression. In a talk given in October, 2013, he claimed that the Second Vatican Council “meant an end to the hostilities between the Church and modernism, which was condemned in the First Vatican Council.” He was acting president of Caritas Internationalis when it was first reported that the international Catholic relief organization held a seat on the board of a pro-communist, pro-abortion, pro-homosexual organization known as the World Social Forum — but he nevertheless took no action. In 2014, he publicly chastised Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who at the time served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as inflexible, calling him “a professor of German theology” who “sees things in black and white terms.” In the same interview, he said that the Church reforms championed by Pope Francis had “reached a point of no return”; a theme he reiterated in a 2015 talk in which he claimed that the pope “wants to take this Church renovation to the point where it becomes irreversible.”
He was also a point man in the attacks on the dubia cardinals, accusing them of not having read Amoris Laetitia before commenting on it and of “pharisaism” in their response to it. He took things a step further with Cardinal Burke, the de facto leader of the dubia effort, saying that he “is a disappointed man, in that he wanted power and lost it.”
But now, it seems that the tables have turned against the brutally candid Honduran cardinal. His role as leader of the pope’s hand-picked men is now in doubt as reports of his extravagant income threaten the image of the pope’s commitment to “a poor Church for the poor.” Sources cited by L’Espresso said that Francis is “sad” about the allegations against Maradiaga, “but also very determined at discovering the truth”:
He wants to know every item of the investigation Argentine bishop Jorge Pedro Casaretto conducted in Honduras, on top, of course, of the final destination of the jaw-dropping sums of money obtained by the cardinal. … However, some other rather unpleasant items account for the rest of the sums he received according to Bishop Casaretto’s report. The pope’s trustworthy person put down on paper the serious accusations many witnesses brought forward (the audits totaled around fifty witnesses and included administrative staff of the diocese and of the university, priests, seminarians and the cardinal’s driver and secretary) also against the Auxiliary Bishop of Tegucigalpa, Juan José Pineda, among the most loyal in Maradiaga’s inner circle and de facto his deputy in Central America.
The accusations are many: “Some expenses go to close friends of Pineda, like a Mexican who calls himself ‘Father Erick’, but who never took his vows,” said a missionary. “The real name of the man is Erick Cravioto Fajardo. He lived for years in an apartment adjacent to that of the cardinal at Villa Iris. Pineda, who lived with him under the same roof, recently bought him a downtown apartment and a car. The money, we fear, came from university funds or from the diocese. We denounced this close and unseemly relationship also to the Vatican. The pope knows everything”.
In addition to unaccounted-for investments “to the tune of millions” discovered in the audit performed by Bishop Casaretto, there are possible indications of “huge flows of money” from a diocesan “media empire” and a related foundation called Suyapa. Additionally, every year, according to L’Espresso, the the government of Honduras was also transferring “tens of millions of lempiras” ($1 = 23.56 L) to the Foundation for Education and Social Communication, a second institution related to the Honduran Church which Maridaga represents. There are concerns that the Honduran Court of Auditors will launch its own probe into the finances of the diocese of Tegucigalpa.
It is unclear how much Pope Francis knew about Maradiaga’s financial activities when he was brought on board as an adviser. The pope was given a dossier on the matter six months ago, and has reserved to himself the right to make all ecclesiastical decisions as a consequence of the investigation. The question remains, however, whether the pope will take action. In the past, he has received criticism for his handling of several cases of clerical misconduct among his friends, the most significant case being that of the Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, a member of the so-called “St. Gallen Mafia” who claims to have participated in a conspiracy to elect the Argentinian pope. Danneels was caught on tape attempting to silence a victim of clerical sexual abuse in his diocese; the book The Dictator Pope alleges that Danneels was also implicated in some way in nearly 50 of 475 dossiers on allegations of clerical sexual abuse that ultimately went missing after having been seized as evidence by Belgian police and subsequently deemed inadmissible in court for unknown reasons. Danneels was nevertheless present with Pope Francis on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica on the evening of his election, and was personally invited by the pope to attend the Synod on the Family, despite his advocacy for abortion and homosexual “marriage” in his home country.