The Honduran Catholic Church’s True Colours: Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga

by ecologics

Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga’s role in relation to the Honduran coup d’etat suggests that the Cardinal is far from being the ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ figure that many believe him to be. But was the cardinal’s intervention in the Honduran coup a revelation of his – and his church’s – ‘true colours’, or was it a calculated gambit intended to endear him to the Curia?

Versión en español de este artículo: La Postura Política de la Iglesia Católica en Honduras: Cardenal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga

Updated November 26, 2009 (please scroll down to the bottom of this page to see the updates if you have already read the first part of the article)

News emerging from Honduras suggest that the country’s leading Roman Catholic, Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, opposes the return of President Manuel Zelaya, the victim of a coup by Honduras’ military. According to Spain’s El País, the new government instituted by the coup forced all of the Honduran TV channels to carry a broadcast by Rodríguez Maradiaga. In it the cardinal told Zelaya  ‘I know that you love life…I know that you respect life, and until today not a single Honduran has died. But your return to the country at this point in time could lead to a blood bath. Please, meditate. Because afterward it would be too late’ (1).

This is an extraordinary statement. On the one hand, even President Obama, whose administration was criticised for effectively condoning the coup, belatedly acknowledged that Zelaya is still the rightful president of Honduras.  Zelaya has every right to go back to his country and reclaim his constitutional mandate to lead Honduras as its democratically elected president. On the other hand, the nature of the discourse employed by Rodríguez Maradiaga is such that it tacitly blames Zelaya in advance for a bloodbath that could only be the result of the actions of the golpistas led by de facto leader Roberto Micheletti. In effect, Rodríguez Maradiaga appears to be trying to prevent Zelaya from returning to Honduras by inverting the order of politics: Zelaya is the victim of Micheletti & Co’s actions, but in Rodríguez Maradiaga’s statement, Zelaya has been transformed into the would-be aggressor. Little wonder that the illegal Honduran government interrupted normal broadcasts to show Rodríguez’s intervention on television.

This raises the question: who is Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, and why does he appear to have allied himself with the Honduran oligarchy behind the coup?

Anyone who does superficial research on the cardinal’s background could be forgiven for coming away with the impression that Rodríguez Maradiaga is a progressive religious leader. If one goes, for example, by the first part of the Wikipedia entry on the cardinal, he certainly does seem to be a force for good: according to the Wiki, ‘His campaign for human rights and the poor have won widespread praise. Cardinal Rodríguez is further admired as a dynamic pastor who brokered peace accords with rebels and led rebuilding efforts after a natural disaster. He is an outspoken proponent of the cancellation of Third World debt’(2).

He also seems to have a formidable intellect: according to the same Wiki, the cardinal has a doctorate in philosophy, and, in addition to his native Spanish, speaks English, French, Italian, German and Portuguese. As if this weren’t impressive enough, Rodríguez has a diploma in clinical psychology and psychotherapy, has taught chemistry and physics, and has even trained in classical piano. He has, in effect, the kind of education that only the most privileged in Latin America could ever hope to obtain.

According to the media, Rodríguez Maradiaga was a key mediator during the stand-off between the democratically elected president Zelaya and the Honduran oligarchy. El País went so far as to say that ‘There is a man who has much influence in Honduras and who has, until now, remained in silence. This man went to all of the secret meetings that took place in the U.S. Embassy to try to avert the coup d’etat. In those meetings, Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez always remained in a position of exquisite equidistance’(3).

Alas, the good cardinal has now not only abandoned that ‘equidistance’, but as noted earlier, has effectively adopted a stance that renders him, if not an accomplice of the Honduran coup leaders, then certainly a cardinal that is very useful to their plot.

In the opinion of this observer, the latter characterisation seems to be the more accurate one: a man with a doctorate in philosophy, and with a diploma in clinical psychology might have chosen any number of ways to continue his work of mediation. Instead he appears to have chosen what is arguably the most Machiavellian way of trying to stop Zelaya from returning to Honduras: by making Zelaya responsible for any deaths resulting from his efforts to restore the duly-elected presidency.

We must thus ask once again, who is Rodríguez Maradiaga, and why would he adopt such a stance?

Clues that Rodríguez Maradiaga is not quite as progressive as he seems to be may be found if one reads beyond the headline accounts of his apparent moderation.

First, the cardinal has taken an extraordinarily hard line when it comes to the trials in the U.S. of Catholic priest paedophiles. According to the Wiki cited earlier, in a May 2002 interview with the Italian-Catholic publication 30 Giorni, Rodríguez Maradiaga claimed that ‘Jews’ had influenced the media to exploit the current controversy regarding sexual abuse by Catholic priests in order to divert attention from the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. No doubt the Israeli state (as distinct from the category of ‘Jews’ in general) is capable of all kinds of deviousness. But if 30 Giorni is accurate, for Rodríguez Maradiaga to try to blame ‘Jews’ for media reporting on the outrages of priestly paedophillia would be simply ridiculous. It would be a devious and divisive effort to divert attention from the real issues.

Second, the French magazine Golias noted that when it came to AIDS and condoms, the supposedly progressive cardinal is ‘more papist than the pope’: ‘Archbishop Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga said [in the monthly journal Comboni that] he was indeed convinced that condoms are not useful for combating the AIDS virus. “The fight AIDS should not focus on condoms (…) The use of condoms does not prevent all transmission of AIDS”‘(4). It may be that this last sentence is valid, when taken in isolation of the bigger issue. However, anyone who focusses on this detail misses the bigger picture: that Benedict XVI, and apparently Rodríguez himself, have adopted an utterly ideological stance vis-a-vis the matter of condoms. It is a stance that may endear them to the men who prefer not to use condoms, but it is also one that will result in needless, some would say criminal, deaths. Apparently Rodríguez is not particularly concerned about those deaths (as opposed to the ones that might be caused by Micheletti if Zelaya returns).

Third, after making what many interpreted as relatively liberal comments regarding communion with pro-choice politicians in Time Magazine, Rodríguez Maradiaga engaged in a remarkable volte face: as noted by the Catholic News Agency,

…in statements to Carlos Polo, reproduced exclusively by the Catholic News Agency, Cardinal Maradiaga [sic], who is in Aparecida participating in the V General Conference of the Latin American Bishops’ Council, said his comments to Time magazine should be reformulated “in light of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith teaches in its document, ‘Worthiness to Receive Communion’.”“A politician who publicly supports abortion, he excommunicates himself.  It’s not question of receiving Communion or not; he has already done serious harm to the communion of faith of the Church, to the communion of moral life, and therefore that person himself is doing an act that is inconsistent with what he says he believes,” the cardinal said.(5)

For those unfamiliar with the workings of the Vatican, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith is the modern name for what used to be called the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Under the prefect-ship of the current pope, Joseph Ratzinger now Benedict XVI, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith became notorious for its world-wide persecution of liberal and liberation theology Catholics (more on this, below). From this point of view, Rodríguez Maradiaga’s u-turn may be seen as a recognition that Ratzinger’s hard line continues to dominate doctrinal matters.

One benevolent interpretation of Rodríguez Maradiaga’s intervention in favour of the Honduran oligarchy is precisely that Rome has ordered him to tow the hard line. This ‘Vatican-victim’ status is, however, flatly contradicted by the role that Rodríguez Maradiaga played while he was general secretary of CELAM, the Spanish-language acronym for the Latin American Episcopal Conference. CELAM was once a Catholic institution dominated by progressive Latin American clergy. The more radical members of the clergy initiated a movement known as ‘liberation theology’, and established what became known as ‘Ecclesiastical Base Communities’ throughout the continent. Such communities had a critical orientation that explored ways of helping the poor to overcome centuries-old exploitation by groups such as the ones that have carried out the coup in Honduras. The principle was that traditional Church calls for Christian generousity had clearly failed, and so what was needed was a radical redefinition of the Church’s policies and priorities in defence of the poor.

The Vatican initially tolerated the initiative. However, first under Pope Paul VI, and then again under the arch-conservative Pope John Paul II, the liberation theology movement was opposed, and then effectively disbanded by conservative CELAM general secretaries imposed by the Vatican, with Ratzinger as the Catholic Right’s éminence grise. Towards the bitter end of this process, from 1995 to 1999, Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga was one such secretary; as noted by the itself conservative Washington Post, ‘although he has spoken out against free-market policies and in defense of millions living in abject poverty in Central America, Rodríguez Maradiaga is an opponent of the “liberation theology” that once supported leftist rebellions and sought to bend the rules of orthodoxy to bring the Church closer to Indian groups and the poor’(6). In 2001, John Paul II rewarded Rodríguez for his loyalty by making him the first cardinal of Honduras, and a few years later Rodríguez threw his hat into the ring of candidates to replace John Paul II when he died in 2005. The Golias article quoted earlier wondered if Rodríguez’s stance vis-a-vis condomns was part of a strategy designed to endear him to the Vatican’s all-powerful Right. The cardinal’s most recent actions raise similar questions: could it be that Rodríguez now has ambitions to replace Ratzinger and is willing to sacrifice the poor in Honduras in order to improve his chances of becoming the next pope?

Far, then, from being a victim of the Vatican, there might well be reasons to regard Rodríguez Maradiaga as the kind of Catholic leader that has haunted Latin American societies for centuries: a leader who, when it suited the Church, criticised the ruling elite for their greed; but also a leader who, when push came to shove, knew full well that the Vatican’s ideological interests were intimately aligned with those of the very oligarchies occasionally berated for their avarice. The Honduran cardinal’s sudden abandonment of a mediating role, and the extraordinary nature of his attack on Zelaya appear to be a sad example of just such a push, and just such a shove. The actions suggest that, at least where the Roman Catholic Church’s political interventions are concerned, Latin American history is being repeated.

Update July 6, 2009

News today that the Honduran coup leaders have not only turned back Zelaya, but have killed one and maimed several others, appear to ‘prove’ the cardinal’s point. (For updates on the rapidly evolving situation, see the Latin America News Review.) EcoLogics asks readers to consider: would the Honduran businessmen behind the coup have engaged in any of these actions if Obama had presented them with an ultimatum to cease and desist their actions immediately?

Update July 10, 2009

According to news in Britain’s Guardian, Joseph Ratzinger’s (Benedict XVI) third encyclical reportedly suggests that ‘The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way’.’In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise.’  EcoLogics will study the encyclical and will publish a post on the matter. However, on the face of it, 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.

Update July 16, 2009

Various news items have appeared that shed additional light on the points made in this post.

1) Rodríguez Maradiaga tries to row back. In an interview published in Argentina’s Clarín, the Cardinal has attempted to row back on his support for the coup leaders. He claims not to be a ‘Cardenal golpista’ (literally, a ‘coup-ist’ cardinal), and claims that he’s waiting for an explanation as to why Zelaya was deported in a flagrantly unconstitutional manner. But he fails to say anything negative about Micheletti… EcoLogics understands that there is a saying in Spanish, ‘El que calla otorga’, i.e. ‘He who remains silent agrees with…’ Rodríguez has not only failed to criticise Micheletti, but as noted in this post, has come out with ideological guns blazing against Zelaya… Are we really expected to believe the good Cardinal when he claims that he is not actually supporting the coup?

2) Rodríguez Maradiaga’s complicity with the military confirmed? The website of what appears to be a pro-Chávez radio station in Venezuela (YVKE), is both quoting, and showing the actual copy of a newspaper with an article published in January 1982 about a Catholic priest, Fausto Milla, who claimed at the time that the Honduran military forced him to leave Honduras after he denounced a massacre of Salvadoran refugees by Honduran and Salvadoran military in 1980. (This was at the beginning of the Salvadoran civil war; the Honduran military supported the U.S.-led Salvadoran military.)  The priest says he was threatened and nearly kidnapped by the Honduran military. More glaringly from the point of view of Rodríguez Maradiaga’s complicity with the current coup, Milla also claims that Rodríguez, who was then a newly appointed bishop in Father Milla’s province, supported the military. The following quote, translated from a part of the article provided by the website, is quite damning, and refers to the kind of anti-liberation theology politics mentioned in this post:

‘I [Fausto Milla] am also disappointed by those who were supposed to provide me with support and solace, but whose attitude suggests instead an alliance with those who persecute us, and this simply because we are doing the Church’s work.’ ‘The Presbyterian Council of Santa Rosa de Copán has been dismantled by the new bishop [Rodríguez Maradiaga, who was named Auxiliarby Bishop of Tegucigalpa in 1978]. The changes in the ecclesiastical personnel have been so abrupt that it’s as if Monseñor Rodríguez were playing a game of chess, dismantling the entire organisation that the now deceased Monseñor José Carranza y Chévez created’. ‘One cannot understand how it is that our superiors, who sign documents like the one in Puebla [the famous Puebla Declaration, in which leaders of the Latin American Catholic Church declared that the Church should support the poor], now take the side of those whom that document condemns for seeking to maintain the national security doctrine, which actually leads to insecurity for the whole population and only security for the money that they [the supporters of the national security doctrine] accumulate’.

EcoLogics has no way of vouching for the authenticity of the article, but it certainly fits with what we know about the cardinal’s politics. Any information that critical readers may provide confirming (or indeed disproving) the account of this article would be gratefully received.

3) A warning to readers that, after the publication of this post, Cardinal Rodríguez, or his supporters, have been at work on the English language version of the Wikipedia article, promoting the view that the cardinal was only trying to ‘avert a bloodbath’ in Honduras. Wikipedia is great, but it does have the limitation that it is open to manipulation from all sides.

Update on August 11, 2009: For a reply to Obama’s latest comments about the hypocrisy of his Latin American critics, see Obama: yes you can have it both ways.

Update on September 24, 2009: Great news that Zelaya is back in Honduras. Remarkable to note that Micheletti’s response was to once again to suggest that any deaths would be the responsibility of Zelaya. It is as if Micheletti and Rodríguez Maradiaga are singing from the same hymnal. If you would like confirmation that Rome supports the Micheletti regime and Rodríguez’s anti-democratic stance, have a look at the article in the Roman Catholic propaganda news site, Zenith, in which it describes Zelaya as being ‘holed up’ in the Brazilian embassy.

Update October 5, 2009

See the new post about Pope Benedict XVI, titled ‘Talk about “Toxic Spiritual Rubbish”‘

Update October 13, 2009

This week Micheletti and his fellow golpistas published a decree that ostensibly made it legal for them to engage in the censorship of any media not towing the putschist line. The official decree—aimed at the pro-Zelaya Channel 36 and Globo Radio—was coaxed in laughable language: ‘Se podrán cancelar las frecuencias de emisoras o televisoras que emitan mensajes que inciten al odio nacional, (y a la) destrucción de bienes públicos‘. A rough translation: ‘It will be possible to cancel the frequencies of radio or TV channels that broadcast messages that incite a national hatred, (and/or) the destruction of public property’. A national hatred? Is that a hatred of the nation, or a national hatred of Micheletti et al? Zelaya’s lawyers should have field day with the ambiguity of the expression, which would presumably allow the government to close down not just the offending media, but any channel broadcasting messages such as those of Rodríguez Maradiaga. After all, how would you define legally, a ‘national hatred’?

In case you didn’t read this post, you may wish to read the related Obama’s Big Stick and Alvaro Uribe’s ‘Entreguismo’

Update October 17, 2009

The latest news from Honduras appear to confirm what many of us suspected—that Micheletti and his cronies have learned how to employ what might be described as the Israeli model of ‘diplomacy’: pretend to negotiate, even as you brutally impose your own preferred modus operandi by way of physical force, i.e. by sending in the troops, and closing down any space for dissent. It also seems unambiguously clear now that the U.S. is backing the dictatorship, if only by allowing Micheletti to play the ‘Israeli’ game. In Honduras’ case that game involves delaying the negotiations to the point that the real president’s elected term comes to an end, so as to allow the junta to claim that an all-new scenario has emerged, in which ‘democratic’ elections can and must ‘now’ take place. It is so transparent—and so cynical. But the damage has been done; the Honduran oligarchy, which had managed to keep its corrupt dealings in the shade for the better part of a century, is now well and truly outed. So is the Clinton-Obama presidency, which in this context as in so many others, has revealed that the so-called Democratic Party is little better than the one it replaced when it comes to foreign affairs. Indeed, a case can be made that with Bush you knew exactly where you stood; with the Clinton-Obamas, it’s all smoke and mirrors. The only question now is, will the people supporting Zelaya rebel?

Update November 26, 2009

This blog has kept silent about the recent twists and turns in Honduran diplomacy; it seemed clear that, as noted in the previous update, the Honduran dictatorship was playing a game, with no real intention of giving up power. At one point Micheletti & Co. actually seemed to prove this blogger wrong, but alas, events have in the end adhered to the script outlined in earlier posts.

The one new element is that the U.S. cannot now deny that it has conspired with Micheletti and the rest of the Honduran oligarchy to depose a democratically elected president, and has done so in a style that is little different from the one employed for the better part of 150 years by historic U.S. governments. The cynism of the Obama-Clinton administration has not only been confirmed, but does extraordinary damage to the interests of the United States in Latin America, and elsewhere. Obama actually managed to persuade us for a time that the United States represented by Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the Republican mafia was something of an aberration, even in a country that has historically been inclined to do as it pleases with those whom it dominates. His ‘Yes we can’ seemed to be a breath of fresh air, even to those inclined to be deeply suspicious about the empire’s designs. Alas, we now have irrefutable evidence that the Bush modus operandi lives on, albeit in a somewhat more discrete, and astute manner. By accepting the outcome of the elections engineered by Micheletti et al, Obama-Clinton have in effect confirmed the legitimacy of the coup d’etat. The question, once again, is what the poor and those displaced politically by Micheletti (and Obama) will do now. Will they rise up in arms to defend their rights? They can at least take comfort from the fact that in Brazil’s Lula they still have a stalwart supporter.

Notes

1) ‘La Iglesia pide a Zelaya que no regrese’, in El País, July 5, 2009, http://www.elpais.com/articulo/internacional/Iglesia/pide/Zelaya/regrese/elpepuint/20090705elpepiint_1/Tes, accessed July 5, 2009.

2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%93scar_Andr%C3%A9s_Rodr%C3%ADguez_Maradiaga, accessed July 5, 2009.

3) ‘La Iglesia pide a Zelaya que no regrese’, in El País, July 5, 2009, http://www.elpais.com/articulo/internacional/Iglesia/pide/Zelaya/regrese/elpepuint/20090705elpepiint_1/Tes, accessed July 5, 2009.

4) ‘L’enquête Caritas : Maradiaga déçoit’ in Golias, http://www.golias.fr/spip.php?article2853, accessed July 6, 2009.

5) Catholic News Agency, ‘Honduran cardinal clarifies interview on Communion and pro-abortion politicians’, May 18, 2007. http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=9402, accessed July 5, 2009.

6) ‘Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, Honduras’, Washington Post, April 16, 2005, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A57842-2005Apr15.html, accessed July 5, 2009.