Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga was named by Pope Francis as head of a group of cardinals to help him govern the Church one month after the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope. “Vice pope” or the pope’s “right-hand man” is how Rodriguez Maradiaga is usually described in the press.
Australian Cardinal George Pell was appointed by the pope this past February as prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy, giving him control of all Vatican finances and administration including hiring and salaries.
Yet the backgrounds of these now powerful men which demonstrate Pope Francis’ disdain for both the poor and the victims of clerical sex abuse remain unreported by the U.S. media.
Rodriquez Maradiaga actively supported the 2009 coup against the progressive and democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya Rosales. The cardinal was condemned by Latin Americans:
Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez: The path you have chosen to be an accomplice of the military dictatorship is not the way of the Gospel. You cannot be against your people and allow violence and repression in the name of supposed safety and law and the committing of serious human rights violations.
Mr. Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga has brought disrespect to his ecclesiastical position by joining the coup and attacking the Honduran people and their democratic institutions, taking sides in a situation so critical for Honduran society….[H]ere he is, heretically offending the faith in the God of Life that he says he proclaims in order to allay himself with the forces of Death. And, there they are, our brothers, killed in cold blood by military assassins legitimated by the word, equally assassin, of Cardinal Rodriguez.
The cardinal appears to have allied himself with the Honduran oligarchy behind the coup….He has adopted a stance that renders him, if not an accomplice of the Honduran coup leaders, then certainly a cardinal who is very useful to their plot….He appears to have chosen what is arguably the most Machiavellian way of trying to stop Zelaya from returning to Honduras.
A few days after Zelaya’s overthrow, Maradiaga read a pastoral letter signed by 11 bishops in which the Honduran Church sided with the coup. It echoed claims by Honduran businessmen and media outlets that Zelaya’s liberal administration was aligned with Chavez and posed a threat to democracy.
The Organization of American States expelled Honduras and the international community approved sanctions and refused to recognize the de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti. Maradiaga argued that Honduran “democratic institutions are in place.” That brought a split in the Honduran church.
Regional leaders of the order of the Dominicans made a letter public in which they urged Church followers to categorically reject “the blow inflicted” by the coup.” Central American Jesuits said “the coup imposes an authoritarian and repressive regime on the country through unconstitutional means.”
A group of the Honduran Catholic Church known as Opus Dei participated actively in the coup against constitutional President Manuel Zelaya, said a study published here Monday. Opus Dei is headed by Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez. According to the investigation, named “Opus Dei in Honduras, The Catholic Church in the Coup” by sociologist Marco Burgos, active members of this clan are making intromissions in the Honduran national politics, despite Honduras is officially considered a secular country.
Like Cardinal Mario Jorge Bergoglio, Maradiaga is an opponent of liberation theology which called for revising the social, economic and political structures causing poverty. Also like Bergoglio, Maradiaga was accused by a priest under his supervision of cooperating with a military dictatorship.
Maradiaga responded [to charges he supported the coup] by drawing an analogy to Pope John Paul II’s opposition to [liberation theology] in Latin America, which also polarized worshippers and Catholic leaders in the region. Maradiaga, who supported the pope, called it a ‘sad episode’ of divisions that weakened the Church.
Both Bergoglio and Rodriguez Maradiaga were rewarded for their positions by being made cardinals by John Paul II.
Rome supports the Micheletti regime and Rodríguez’s anti-democratic stance….Joseph Ratzinger’s (Benedict XVI) third encyclical [renounces] “economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise.’ It sounds eerily like Rodríguez Maradiaga’s own stance: the pope can certainly talk the talk of moral condemnation, but when one looks at his history, it becomes apparent that he has walked the path of destroying the very people who raised these selfsame concerns and tried to do something about them decades ago in the context of liberation theology.
We all know the humanitarian tragedy which followed.
Blanket media coverage of Pell’s February promotion as head of Vatican finance and administration was followed by similarly complimentary reporting of Pell’s July 9 announcement of the “reform” of Vatican finances. No U.S. media outlet noted that Pell’s principle fiancial acumen has been denying or diminishing compensation to the victims of clerical child torture.
As head of the Melbourne archdiocese, Pell created the Melbourne Response in 1996 through which the archdiocese offered compensation and counseling to abuse victims. Payments were initially capped at $50,000. On Aug. 21, via video link from the Vatican, Pell told the Royal Commission (established to investigate child sex abuse) “that was about $120,000 in today’s dollars.”
Senior counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness was quick to point out the cap on compensation had increased but payments today were well short of $120,000.
“The cap is now $75,000 which suggests it might have gone backwards,” Ms Furness said.
“Well I would imagine that going from $50,000 to $75,000 is going forward,” Cardinal Pell replied.
Cardinal Pell said the payouts were comparable to, and “no less generous”, than similar redress schemes.
Anthony and Christine Foster are the parents of two daughters serially raped by a priest when they were in grammar school in the late 1980s, despite the Church receiving repeated complaints about the priest since 1958. Emma committed suicide while trying to deal with her abuse and Katie, who had started drinking to numb the pain, walked in front of a speeding car. This left her with permanent intellectual and physical disabilities which require constant care.
“The Fosters showed the Royal Commission a copy of a letter sent by then Archbishop George Pell in August 1998 apologizing for ‘the wrongs and hurt you have suffered at the hands of Kevin O’Donnell.’” This was followed shortly by a letter from the Church’s lawyers informing them the archdiocese had agreed to pay $50,000 for the abuse to their eldest daughter. The letter said it was an alternative to litigation, which would be strenuously defended.
“I felt there was an apology and then a threat. It was more of the same from the Catholic Church,” Mrs. Foster said.
In 2002, the Fosters began civil proceedings against the Church which was settled in 2006. The Church agreed to pay $750,000, but refused to accept any liability.
Other victims told the Commission “of being discouraged from reporting to police; and of the distress of having their allegations accepted for the purposes of compensation offers, yet being told that these same allegations would be strenuously defended should they seek instead to go to court. Certainly, sexual assault complainants are often met with a theatre of evasion – from denial to legalistic defences which trivialise the complaint or disparage the complainant; from responses framed only in terms of compensation, to settlements which prevent victims from speaking out.”
Startlingly, however, this week’s hearings also revealed that the Catholic Church has spent around $17 million on administering [the Melbourne Response] – an equivalent sum to the total it has paid out to approximately 350 victims whose complaints it has accepted. These payments have averaged a modest $30,000…yet the Independent Counsel who determined the complaints has been paid $7 million since being engaged in 1996.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s “strategy for suppressing the crisis in Buenos Aires – his behind-the-scenes refusal to help victims combined with a total lack of transparency” included denying victims compensation. Cardinal George Pell “has never made any secret of his wish to deter people from suing the Church and to control damage payouts. If he feared anything, it was that the Australian Church would go the way of the U.S. Church with multi-million dollar payouts leading to bankruptcy. That is what the John Ellis case in NSW was all about: deterrence.”
“John Ellis was thrice abused.” As a 13-year-old altar boy, John Ellis was sexually abused by Fr. Aidan Duggan, who was already known in the Church as a serial child abuser. In 2002, when he was 41-year-old attorney, Ellis reported his abuse to the Sydney archdiocese, headed by Pell who had been transferred from Melbourne.
Pell behaved evasively, traumatizing John Ellis further. Pell finally accepted that John Ellis was a victim of Church sexual abuse but refused him compensation, offering him only a discounted ‘pastoral’ settlement. The draft settlement document would require Mr. Ellis to give up his right to sue the archdiocese for proper compensation. Mr. Ellis refused to sign away this right.
In 2004, feeling hurt by Pell’s lack of sympathy, John Ellis began steps in the New South Wales Supreme Court to sue George Pell and the Sydney archdiocese trustees….Ellis anticipated that this threat of litigation would prompt the archdiocese to enter mediation, resulting in an out-of-court settlement and proper compensation. But Pell refused mediation, and his lawyers vigorously attacked John Ellis’ character and credibility over days of cross-examination. Pell’s lawyers finally blocked John Ellis’s case from proceeding. Thus, Pell established a legal precedent which Church lawyers throughout Australia could cite in the future to discourage any other victim from deciding to sue the Church.
Pell’s victory made legal history and became known as the “Ellis defense.” “It forces Church victims to accept a discounted in-house settlement instead of suing for proper compensation.”
In early April 2014, Pell gave his testimony to the Royal Commission in person.
The reaction of most decent people to his testimony probably runs from revolting to infuriating to disbelief….True to form, Pell blamed his lawyers for the horrific way Mr. Ellis was treated but he explained this by telling the commission that the “vigorous defense against abuse victim John Ellis was seen as an opportunity to show future claimants they should think twice before litigating against the Catholic Church.” He actually had the temerity to characterize Ellis’ claim as an “attack on the trustees of the Catholic Church by people who were not entirely reasonable.”
Pell and the archdiocese’s role in the Ellis case is a glaring example of the darkest and most destructive dimension of the clergy sex abuse phenomenon. Pell admitted they believed Ellis had been abused yet he and his lawyers mounted a brutal campaign against him to protect the archdiocese’s assets but also to punish him for standing up to them. Pell was asked to explain why he directed such a bloodthirsty campaign against Ellis if they actually believed he had been abused. His response was beyond repulsive. It was chilling in its lack of humanity. Pell thought Ellis would see this simply as an exercise in disputing his claim: “We were dealing with Mr. Ellis as a senior and brilliant lawyer. I think he, as a lawyer, would have understood the distinction.” So, in Pell’s mind the dishonest, vindictive and abusive campaign to reduce Mr. Ellis to human rubble is just an exercise!
The story goes on and in legal terms, gets more complex but in the end although Ellis did not succeed at the level of the supreme court because of a legal technicality, Pell, the episcopacy in general and the institutional Church lost because the entire saga, exposed to the light by the Commission, revealed what Jimmy Breslin wrote about in 2002, The Church that Forgot Christ.
Pell’s success in preserving the Church’s treasure was reported to the Commission in March 2014:
Sydney’s Catholic Archdiocese, thought to be the richest in the country, controls funds with assets of $1.24 billion and generates annual multimillion-dollar surpluses, according to evidence at the child sex abuse Royal Commission.
As the Commission explores the Church’s handling of sex abuse claims, an unprecedented glimpse of the books was provided by the archdiocese’s business manager, Danny Casey, who said the funds are “ultimately controlled by – owned by, if you like – the archbishop of the day.”
Since George Pell’s appointment as archbishop in 2001, the archdiocese has received 204 claims and paid out just under $8 million to victims of child sexual assault, the Commission has been told. Payments to “non-school victims” were $5.4 million. This included $740,000 for “boundary issues with adults.”[…]
The Royal Commission was shown accounts revealing that the Catholic Development Fund held $810 million, including $321 million in cash at the end of 2013. The procuration fund from which sexual abuse claims are made held $426 million, including real estate assets of $207 million.
Casey, “Pell’s right hand man,” announced in June that he and his wife were relocating to Rome where he would head a new department within the Vatican’s finance department.
He didn’t mention where they would live, but it could be at the $30 million – “though one estimate goes as high as $85 million” – Rome guest house Pell bought with archdiocesan money and where the cardinal has his private apartment. “The vice-president of the Rationalists Association of NSW, Max Wallace, raises a fair question: ‘How is it that the maximum payout of victims of sexual abuse can hope to achieve through Cardinal Pell’s [program] is $75,000, yet the Church can find as much as $30 million to acquire a property in Rome? This surely tells victims that the Church really doesn’t care about them, and the Church’s mea culpas in the light of all the revelations about abuse are hollow and insincere.”
Maybe Pell should have asked Rupert Murdoch for the money. For the April 27 celebration of the proclaimed sainthood of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, “the Vatican is preparing its most ambitious TV and social media campaign yet for the millions who don’t make it to Rome, including 3-D movie theaters in 20 countries, with help from Cardinal Pell’s pal, Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV network, Sony and other partners.”
Murdoch was the guest of honor and keynote speaker at an event attended by Pell within weeks of Bergoglio’s ascension to the Chair of St. Peter. It was held at the “ultra conservative Institute of Public Affairs which openly boasts about its political influence, which in truth is its raison d’être.” Many of its “radical ideas” have been adopted by PM Tony Abbot, a close friend of Pell’s.
When the pope announced Pell as his financial tsar, Murdoch tweeted: “Pope Francis appoints brilliant Cardinal Pell from Sydney to be no. 3 power in Vatican. Australia will miss him but world will benefit.”
The media literally created Pope Francis as “the 4th Most Powerful Person in the World” only seven months after the appropriately unknown Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected, and “the most influential person of the year” two months later. That scares me.
(Betty Clermont is author of the Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009))
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