VATICAN CITY — The Register has obtained the text of two testimonies, submitted by former seminarians to a Vatican investigator, detailing allegations of serious sexual misconduct by Auxiliary Bishop Juan José Pineda Fasquelle of the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The content of the testimonies, along with previously known allegations of sexual misconduct by the bishop and additional information provided to the Register by sources within Honduras, has reinforced widespread existing concerns about the conduct of Bishop Pineda.
These concerns are heightened by the fact that Bishop Pineda has been in charge of the archdiocese since early January, while its archbishop, top papal adviser Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, undergoes chemotherapy treatment in Houston, Texas, for prostate cancer.
The new information has also renewed questions about why Pope Francis has not taken any action with respect to a report submitted by the Vatican investigator, which reportedly has been in the Holy Father’s hands since May of last year.
Some of the findings of the apostolic visit to the archdiocese were disclosed Dec. 21 by Italy’s L’Espresso newspaper. The investigation was carried out at the Pope’s request by retired Argentine Bishop Alcides Jorge Pedro Casaretto in May 2017 and addressed allegations of serious financial mismanagement within the archdiocese, as well as sexual misconduct allegations involving Bishop Pineda.
L’Espresso reported that Cardinal Maradiaga may have been involved in mismanaging Church funds and may also have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Catholic University of Tegucigalpa. The article said that Cardinal Maradiaga is being accused of investing more than $1.2 million in some London financial companies, including Leman Wealth Management. Some of that money has now vanished, it said. Bishop Pineda is also tied to some, but not all, of the alleged financial irregularities within the archdiocese.
The L’Espresso report, which focused primarily on elements of the financial misconduct allegations that were communicated to Bishop Casaretto, was strongly denounced immediately after its publication by Cardinal Maradiaga, who serves as the head of the C9 “Council of Cardinals” advising the Pope regarding Vatican reform.
The cardinal told Catholic News Agency that the L’Espresso report says “half-truths, that are in the end worse lies” and that they were attacks against him personally that were intended to undermine the Pope’s reforms. “I will keep serving [those reforms] as long as the Holy Father wishes so,” he said.
Cardinal Maradiaga also said Dec. 26, on Honduran Church television outlet Suyapa TV, that Pope Francis had telephoned him to say he was “sorry for all the evil they have done against you” and asked the cardinal not to worry.
However, Cardinal Maradiaga’s vigorous rejection of L’Espresso’s reporting did not directly reference the sexual misconduct allegations made against his auxiliary bishop, although he did comment that Bishop Pineda himself had “asked the Holy Father for an apostolic visit, in order to clear his name.”
The Seminarians’ Testimonies
The two former seminarians testified about events that allegedly occurred earlier this decade, during a period when Bishop Pineda taught at the archdiocesan seminary.
According to the first former seminarian’s testimony to Bishop Casaretto, Bishop 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, the former seminarian stated, Bishop Pineda “never respected what I told him, not to touch me.”
After being repeatedly reproached for his advances, the first seminarian testified, 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].”
The second former archdiocesan seminarian testified that he witnessed firsthand an improper relationship between Bishop Pineda and a third seminarian, during a period when all three men were undertaking pastoral work together.
“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.”
Subsequently, according to the second former seminarian’s testimony, Bishop Pineda undertook a series of punitive actions against him that defamed his reputation and culminated with his expulsion from the archdiocesan 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 stated.
Pattern of Misconduct?
According to two other credible sources within Honduras, both of whom requested anonymity because of fear of reprisals if their identities were disclosed, the misconduct alleged in the two seminarians’ testimonies was similar to a pattern of homosexual actions undertaken by Bishop Pineda with priests, other seminarians and other individuals.
One of the Register’s sources, an archdiocesan official, said that after it became known that Bishop Pineda had slept with seminarians, the seminary’s former rector and his team of formators kept the bishop away from the seminary and prevented him from teaching in 2016. The former rector could not be reached by the Register for comment.
But the archdiocesan source told the Register that Bishop Pineda “returned again in 2017 at the request of Cardinal Maradiaga,” adding that the bishop was seen at the seminary by others “recently,” although this was unable to be verified.
Meanwhile, the Register’s sources have confirmed reports in both the Honduran and Italian press that the bishop lavished gifts and even bought a downtown apartment for his first assistant, a Mexican named Erick Cravioto Fajardo. For years, Cravioto 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.
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.”
As well as this relationship, Bishop Pineda is reported to maintain a string of other intimate male friends in Honduras and abroad whom he has treated with gifts. One of those alleged relationships was with a man named Mike Estrada, known as “Padre Mike,” who for over a decade served as chaplain to the Honduran police force with the assent of Cardinal Maradiaga, despite there being no record that he was ordained, according to the Register’s sources. Estrada, pictured in 2013 in the Honduran newspaper La Prensa presiding at the funeral of a gunned-down 25-year-old policeman, voluntarily resigned as chaplain in January last year, Honduran media reported.
Bishop Pineda also has a record of expensive foreign travel, in a country where 63% of the population live below the poverty line. According to documentation obtained by the Register, between last June and the beginning of this year, the Honduran prelate had personally clocked up more than L430,211 (Honduran Lempira equaling approximately $18,000) in personal air fares, including two separate first-class trips totaling L167,981 (around $7,100) to Madrid in November to meet close male friends.
One of the Madrid trips, to take part in a weeklong Jesuit retreat, reportedly was meant as a sanction on Bishop Pineda at the request of the Pope, after he was informed of the allegations about what was happening in the archdiocese.
The Register has learned that Bishop Casaretto’s investigation was requested by both Cardinal Maradiaga and Bishop Pineda, in response to concerns raised by local Catholics.
The bishop reportedly heard from more than 50 witnesses, including the ex-seminarians. The Register’s second source also gave his own personal testimony.
He said that Bishop Casaretto received “extremely grave testimonies,” regarding both the alleged financial improprieties and Bishop Pineda’s alleged sexual misconduct, and that Bishop Casaretto made it known that he was “appalled and shocked” by what he had heard.
When contacted by the Register, one of the seminarians who submitted testimonies to Bishop Casaretto confirmed that the text obtained by the Register was accurate. The second seminarian could not be reached for similar direct confirmation, but one of the Register’s other Honduran sources vouched for the authenticity of the text of that testimony.
The Register also attempted to contact various other parties in Honduras for comment, including Bishop Hector Garcia Osorio, secretary-general of the country’s bishops’ conference, the Honduran bishops’ spokesman, the spokesman for the archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, and the current and former seminary rectors. Each was asked about the sexual misconduct allegations regarding Bishop Pineda, as well as the financial concerns communicated to Bishop Casaretto. However, phone calls and/or emails made to all of these parties had not been answered at the time the Register published this report.
The Register also directed questions to both Bishop Pineda and Cardinal Maradiaga, giving them a chance to answer directly, but neither of the Honduran Church leaders responded to these inquiries. The Register also contacted the cardinal while he was in Rome for the latest C9 meeting at the end of February, inviting him to meet to share his views on the allegations, but he did not respond.
In addition, the Register twice contacted Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, for comment and asked Holy See spokesman Greg Burke what had happened to the results of the Bishop Casaretto investigation and if any action would be taken. Neither party has so far answered the Register’s inquiries.
The Register is continuing to conduct inquiries into the allegations of financial irregularities and sexual misconduct in the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa and will publish additional reports related to these matters as warranted.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Register correspondent Sabrina Arena Ferrisi assisted him in his inquiries for this article.