Pope Francis has once again found him at the center of scandal after two of his most high-ranking appointees have been implicated in misconduct allegations. Monsignor Edgar Peña Parra, who has been tapped to take on the number two role at the Vatican Secretariat of State, has become the subject of a dossier compiled by laity in his home diocese which makes mention of possible homosexual behavior. Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), has also failed to respond to a court summons in France as a co-defendant in the trial of the Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon, Philippe Barbarin, for “failing to denounce a sexually abusive priest”. Ladaria was made aware of the accusations years before he advised disciplinary action in his capacity as secretary of the CDF, which handles such cases.
Peña Parra, who is the former papal nuncio to Mozambique, will soon take the position of Sostituto for General Affairs in the Vatican Secretariat of State. According to Emiliano Fittipaldi of Italy’s L’Esspresso, “the position of Sostituto is a most delicate nomination, and the name of Peña Parra has caught Vatican insiders by surprise.” Fittipaldi describes the role as “second in influence only to the Pope and the Secretary of State.”
Peña Parra, however, was one of the figures Archbishop Viganò warned about in his initial testimony about abuse coverup and corruption in the Church. Viganò wrote:
Finally, the recent appointment as Substitute of Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra is also connected with Honduras, that is, with Maradiaga. From 2003 to 2007 Peña Parra worked as Counsellor at the Tegucigalpa Nunciature. As Delegate for Pontifical Representations I received worrisome information about him.
In Honduras, a scandal as huge as the one in Chile is about to be repeated. The Pope defends his man, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, to the bitter end, as he had done in Chile with Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros, whom he himself had appointed Bishop of Osorno against the advice of the Chilean Bishops. First he insulted the abuse victims. Then, only when he was forced by the media, and a revolt by the Chilean victims and faithful, did he recognize his error and apologize, while stating that he had been misinformed, causing a disastrous situation for the Church in Chile, but continuing to protect the two Chilean Cardinals Errazuriz and Ezzati. [emphasis in original]
According to Fittipaldi, a 25-page dossier on Peña Parra was mailed to “various prelates” by “enemies” of the Venezuelan priest just nine days after his appointment to the Secretariat of State was announced – prelates who Fittipaldi says “promptly informed the pope.” Signed by the “Laity of the Archdiocese of Maracaibo” — the capital of the Venezuelan state of Zulia, where Peña Parra was “born and raised” — the document provides a possible insight into the idea of “worrisome information” reported, but not explicitly disclosed, by Viganò.
It includes, according to Fittipaldi, “a very strong report about the alleged immoral conduct of this priest, enclosing as well some photocopies of signed letters of the then-Archbishop of Maracaibo, Domingo Roa Pérez, in which he makes reference to these doubts and to grave accusations” against the new Sostituto.
Fittipaldi writes that L’Esspresso has read the document, and that:
The heart of the accusations is a letter from 1985 signed personally by Archbishop Roa Peréz and sent to the rector of the first seminary (San Tommaso D’Aquino in San Cristobal) where the young Peña Parra attended. The young Edgar received his philosophy degree in 1981, and at the beginning of 1985 he had completed his theological studies at another inter-diocesan seminary, Santa Rosa de Lima in Caracas.
That August he was scheduled to be ordained as a priest. Archbishop Roa Peréz, who had held doubts about the candidate for some time, received an anonymous yet credible letter and decided to make it known. In a letter to the rector of San Tommaso D’Aquino, Pio Leon Cardenas, the prelate wrote:
“Dear Monsignor, in this beloved seminary the young Edgar Robinson Peña Parra studied philosophy. Reports concerning his personal habits were quite negative. For this reason, the administration decided to not allow him to continue in formation. Thinking that perhaps his error was not so serious as to exclude him definitively from the seminary…I decided to send him to the seminary in Caracas, where he has studied theology and is now about to receive the diaconate and soon after the priesthood. The reports on him from the inter-diocesan seminary are generally positive, indeed quite good,” wrote Archbishop Roa Peréz. “Now I have received an anonymous letter from Caracas, which says that [Peña Parra] “was expelled from San Tommaso D’Aquino seminary at the end of his third year because he was a homosexual…” Roa Peréz affirmed that such a fact “was actually verified by Peña Parra’s priest-formator [padre assistente] for that year of study, Padre Leye,” but that he [Roa Peréz] did not find out “because a priest of this archdiocese falsified the report.”
“I do not know if we are dealing with false accusations,” Roa Peréz finally concludes. “Your illustrious Lordship can imagine the anguish which now assails me. I have a great need of priests, but I cannot be “a pitiful impious one” as a saint of the Church says referring to the ordination of those who are clearly unworthy. As I have said, it could be that this is a false accusation, and it also could be that what this anonymous letter declares so strongly is true. I beg you with vehemence to re-examine these reports and speak to Padre Leye to see if he remembers the case.”
Fittipaldi writes that within the various documents of the dossier are “several sheets on the moral and spiritual character of the new Sostituto”. L’Esspresso claims to have requested clarification or comment from the Holy See about the dossier, “asking for days” but “without receiving any response.”
It is perhaps fitting that Viganò mentioned Peña Parra in the same breath as Juan Barros; just as he did in the case of his hand-picked Chilean bishop accused of complicity in sexual abuse, Francis appears to have again chosen stubborn recalcitrance in the face of accusations against his pick for Sostituto. Writes Fittipaldi:
It is a fact, however, that the Pope – after being informed of the affair – explained resolutely that he did not believe at all in the credibility of the accusations, saying to his supporters that this is yet another attack against him following the attack of Viganò. “It is always the conservative frontline trying to discredit his magisterium and the image of his faithful collaborators,” so says the commentary from his inner circle.
L’Esspresso announced a plan to release a full investigation in their Sunday, October 14 edition, which was not available online at the time of this writing. It is unclear whether they will provide the answer, if one was received, from San Tommaso D’Aquino seminary, from which Peña Parra was alleged to have been dismissed for immoral conduct.
Cardinal Ladaria Fails to Respond to Summons in French Abuse Trial
The accusations against Peña Parra come as reports that a French court has ordered Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, to be tried early next year for “failing to denounce a sexually abusive priest”. According to The Tablet (UK), the trial will move forward despite the Vatican’s “failure to respond to a summons” issued to Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the CDF prefect, who has been named as a co-defendant in the case. Attorneys representing the alleged victims of Fr. Bernard Preynat say that “Ladaria had advised Barbarin by letter in 2015 to discipline Preynat but avoid public scandal. At the time, he was secretary of the CDF, the Vatican department that handles clerical sexual abuse cases.”
The Tablet reports that “Nadia Debbache, a lawyer for the victims, said the Vatican’s failure to acknowledge receipt of the summons amounted to obstruction of French justice. ‘There is clearly a will to drag things out and cover them up,’ she said.”
Ladaria has, according to The Tablet, “denied wrongdoing but admitted his reaction to abuse accusations he learned about in 2007 was ‘belated’.” Preynat was not removed from priestly ministry until 2015 — eight years after the abuse accusations were brought to the now-cardinal prefect’s attention.
Ladaria, a Jesuit, was promoted by Pope Francis to head up the CDF after the abrupt dismissal of its previous prefect, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, in 2017.
Translation of Italian texts provided by Giuseppe Pellegrino.