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Will Pope Francis respond to ‘extremely grave testimonies’ alleging sexual abuse by Honduran bishop?

Diane Montagna Diane Montagna Follow Diane

ROME, March 7, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — A high spending auxiliary bishop in Honduras accused of “abusing seminarians, having a string of male lovers, and terrorizing those who cross him,” has been left in charge of the archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, while its cardinal archbishop, Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, undergoes prostate cancer treatment in Houston, Texas.

According to an investigation carried out by the National Catholic Register, the decision to leave auxiliary bishop Juan José Pineda Fasquelle in charge of the archdiocese since January was made despite a papal investigation that obtained “extremely grave testimonies” regarding Pineda’s alleged financial and sexual misconduct.

The decision is therefore raising questions about why Pope Francis and the Holy See have taken no action in response to the papal investigator’s report, which was reportedly hand-delivered to the Holy Father last May.

Initial reports

On Dec. 21, the Italian newspaper L’Espresso reported some of the findings of the apostolic visitation to the Honduran archdiocese. The investigation was carried out at Pope Francis’ request by retired Argentine Bishop Jorge Pedro Casaretto, on May 17, 2017. The probe targeted allegations of serious financial mismanagement in the archdiocese by Cardinal Maradiaga, and allegations of financial and sexual misconduct by Bishop Pineda.

Cardinal Maradiaga, who serves as the head of the C9 “Council of Cardinals” advising Pope Francis on Vatican reform, immediately denounced the L’Espresso report, but he did not directly address allegations of sexual misconduct made against Bishop Pineda, except to say that Pineda had “asked the Holy Father for an apostolic visit, in order to clear his name.”

Former seminarians testify

On March 4, the National Catholic Register reported it had obtained the testimonies of two former seminarians of the archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, detailing allegations of grave sexual misconduct by Bishop Pineda.

The events related in the testimony are alleged to have occurred some time in the last ten years, while Bishop Pineda was teaching at the archdiocesan seminary.

Both testimonies were submitted to the Vatican investigator last May.

The first seminarian testified before Bishop Casaretto that Pineda “attempted to have sexual relations … without my authorization, during the period I was in service with him. In the night he came close to me and touched my intimate parts and chest. I tried to stop him; on several occasions, I got out of bed and went out. Sometimes I went to the Blessed Sacrament to pray to ask God that that should stop happening.”

But Bishop Pineda “never respected what I told him, not to touch me,” the former seminarian said.

After repeatedly rejecting his advances, the first seminarian said Bishop Pineda “started acting weird with me and kept away from me, since he did not get what he wanted. And over time he looked for ways to affect me [i.e., cause me trouble].”

According to the Register, the second former seminarian testified to Bishop Casaretto that he “witnessed firsthand an improper relationship between Bishop Pineda and a third seminarian,” while the three men were engaged in pastoral work.

The second former seminarian said:

“The pastoral work was very normal until a strange situation between the bishop and [the third seminarian] began to be seen, even sleeping in the same room. One night we worked until late the bishop invited me to sleep with them. I was expecting it to be in a separate room; however, we slept in the same room. In the night the bishop behaved in a strange way. ... When it was early morning, he tried to abuse me; he wanted to put his leg on me and his hand also. I immediately reacted and pushed him away. The next day everything was normal for him, pretending that he had done that last night while asleep.”

He further testified that Bishop Pineda later took punitive measures that smeared his reputation and led to his dismissal from the seminary.

“I therefore beg the Holy See that justice should be done with this bishop who abuses authority and who has a serious moral problem,” the ex-seminarian testified.

Sacrilege

Two “credible sources” who requested anonymity “because of fear of reprisals if their identities were disclosed” told the Register that the allegations contained in the former seminarians’ testimonies were part of a broader web of “homosexual actions undertaken by Bishop Pineda with priests, other seminarians and other individuals.”

Pineda allegedly “lavished gifts and even bought a downtown apartment” for his first assistant, a Mexican named Erick Cravioto Fajardo, who for years lived in a spacious room adjacent to the cardinal’s quarters at the archbishop’s residence, Villa Iris. Bishop Pineda also lived in the residence,” the Register explained.

“Cravioto’s room was ‘right next to the cardinal,’ who knew ‘perfectly well that Pineda spent hours and hours with him and never said anything, never did anything,’ according to the Register’s second source in Honduras. Instead, the source said, the cardinal dismissed the bishop’s relationship with Cravioto and ‘made excuses for it all.’”

Bishop Pineda’s alleged string of male lovers also included a man named Mike Estrada. For 12 years, “Padre Mike” as he was called, served as chaplain for the Honduran National Police force — offering Mass, hearing confessions and celebrating funerals — with the approval of Cardinal Maradiaga, even though there is no record of him ever being ordained a priest. “Padre Mike,” who is pictured here in 2013 celebrating the funeral of a 25-year-old police officer shot in the line of duty, stepped down in January 2017, according to Honduran media.

The Register also obtained documents showing Bishop Pineda’s record of expensive foreign travel, which included two first-class tickets to Madrid “to see close male friends.” One of Pineda’s Spanish getaways reportedly came after Pope Francis was informed about the allegations and sent him to Madrid for a weeklong Jesuit retreat.

Silence

According to the Register, the papal investigation was requested “by both Cardinal Maradiaga and Bishop Pineda, in response to concerns raised by local Catholics.”

The Pope’s special envoy, 80-year-old Bishop Casaretto, reportedly received testimony from at least 50 witnesses, including the former seminarians mentioned here.

Casaretto was “appalled and shocked” by the “extremely grave testimonies” he received regarding sexual misconduct and financial misdealing, the Register’s sources said.

The testimonies have reportedly been in the hands of the Holy Father since last May.

Neither Cardinal Maradiaga nor Bishop Pineda, nor anyone in the Honduran Church, responded to Register enquiries for comment. The Vatican has also remained silent.

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