Damian Thompson The Spectator – Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Honduras, one of the most influential figures in the Catholic Church, has been accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Catholic university in his ceremonial role as its chancellor – and of investing more than $1.2 million in London financial companies, some of which has now allegedly vanished.
These claims form part of a set of spectacularly damaging but unproven allegations by the widely read Italian media outlet L’Espresso. You can read the report here; it also speculates about a ‘close and unseemly relationship’ between a bishop close to Maradiaga and a mysterious man apparently posing as a priest.
The accusations are a disaster for Pope Francis, recently the subject of a book called The Dictator Pope which portrays him – not necessarily fairly – as an ruthless opportunist who turns a blind eye to wrongdoing by members of his inner circle. In last week’s Holy Smoke Spectator podcast, I discussed it with two leading Catholic commentators. You can find the podcast here and also at the bottom of this blog post.
The Maradiaga scandal will not surprise anyone persuaded by the thesis of The Dictator Pope. For the Honduran cardinal is not a member of the sleazy Vatican old guard whom the Pope was elected to remove from office. On the contrary, he is one of Francis’s closest allies – an attention-seeking campaigner for social justice who would have liked to have been pope himself. Maradiaga dominates the Council of Cardinals hand-picked by the Pope to redesign the Curia; if any of the L’Espresso claims are true, Francis made a grave mistake by trusting him.
The bombshell was dropped immediately after the Pope, in his Christmas address to his staff, declared war on critics of his reforms (the nature of which remains unclear even though he has been in office since 2013).
In that speech, Francis seemed to be going after two figures who crossed him but aren’t suspected of corruption – Cardinal Gerhard Müller, sacked as Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith after opposing papal plans to relax the rules governing Communion for the divorced-and-remarried; and Libero Milone, the former Vatican auditor who says he was forced to step down earlier this year after uncovering suspicious activity by curial officials. (Both men have been treated disgracefully, in my opinion.)
Francis compared anti-reformist ‘plotters’ to ‘a cancer that leads to self-absorption, which also infiltrates itself into ecclesiastical organisms’. There was no implication that a prelate advancing his own progressive agenda might be up to his neck in financial skulduggery.