Francesco's friend and adviser, Oscar Maradiaga, preached pauperism but received half a million a year from a University of Honduras. Bergoglio also wanted an investigation on millionaire investments and on the inappropriate behavior of Bishop Pineda, a loyalist of the cardinal
When he finished reading the inquiry drafted by the apostolic envoy he himself had sent to Honduras last May, Pope Francis’ hands went up to his skullcap. He had just found out that his friend and main councilor — powerful cardinal Oscar Maradiaga, a staunch supporter of a poor and pauperist Church and coordinator of the Council of Cardinals after he appointed him in 2013 — had received over the years from the Catholic University of Tegucigalpa around 41,600 US dollars a month, with an additional 64,200 dollars bonus in December. Bergoglio had yet to learn that several witnesses, both ecclesiastical and secular, were accusing Maradiaga of investments in some companies in London topping a 1,2 million dollars that later vanished into thin air, or that the Court of Auditors of the small Central American nation was investigating a flow of large sums of money from the Honduran government to the Foundation for Education and Social Communication and to the Suyapa Foundation, both foundations of the local Church and therefore depending on Maradiaga himself.
"The Pope is sad and saddened, but also very determined at discovering the truth," people of his entourage at Santa Marta, his residency, explain. 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. Just in one year, 2015, as shown in an internal university report L’Espresso obtained, the cardinal received almost 600,000 dollars, a sum that according to some sources he collected for a decade in his capacity as "Grand Chancellor" of the university. 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.
After studying the dossier he received directly six months ago, Pope Francis assigned to himself all final decisions to be made.
Maradiaga, of the Salesian order like the Vatican’s former Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, was born in Honduras 75 years ago. His birthday falls on 29 December, around the time he will be handing down his resignation on Francesco's desk, who will then decide whether or not to confirm his duties. A primary school teacher before becoming a middle school math professor, the cardinal is a highly cultivated person fluent in five languages, an expert in moral theology and philosophy and a great lover of music. He became very well-known in Latin America as a sworn enemy of corruption and a strong defender of the very poor. That is why, in 2013, Francesco, who appreciated his intellectual and government skills, called him to head the group of advisors currently developing the reform of the Roman curia.
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".
The witnesses envoy Casaretto audited talked also about investments to the tune of millions gone catastrophically sour: Maradiaga supposedly transferred large amounts of the diocese’s funds to some financial companies in London, like Leman Wealth Management (whose owner is one Youssry Henien, as the registers of the Company House of England and Wales show). Now part of the money entrusted (and deposited in accounts in German banks) seem to have vanished.
There is more to the story. Casaretto's report also hints to likely huge flows of money from the media empire the archbishopric set up and Suyapa Foundation, which manages the newspapers and televisions of the diocese, controls. As to Bishop Pineda, local newspapers pinpointed him recently as being the man who orchestrated reckless financial operations and the recipient of public funds (for as much as 1,2 million dollars) allegedly destined to obscure projects aimed at "training of the faithful to the values and understanding laws and social life". According to the accusers, these expenses were never supported by valid documentation.
The Vatican is worried also about the Court of Auditors of Honduras’ launching of an accounting probe on the Catholic diocese there between 2012 and 2014. The prosecutors at the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas want to see clear about the lawfulness of the projects for which the government transferred every year tens of millions of lempiras to the Foundation for Education and Social Communication, whose official representative is still Maradiaga. As of the time of writing — so in a letter from the prosecutors L’Espresso obtained — the church did not produce the records on assets and liabilities and expenditure documentations.
We will know soon if Bergoglio will consider the serious accusations credible or not.