Comment

Pope Francis accepts resignation of bishop accused of abusing seminarians

The auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa, Juan Jose Pineda (Getty Images)

Pope Francis today accepted the resignation of a 57-year-old Honduran auxiliary bishop, Juan José Pineda Fasquelle, who is alleged to have sexually abused seminarians.

Bishop Pineda had been until now auxiliary of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where the archbishop is Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga. Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga is a member of Pope Francis’s “C9” Council of Cardinal Advisers – in fact the coordinator of the Council – and has himself been accused of financial malfeasance, along with his former auxiliary. Cardinal Maradiaga denies the allegations. Bishop Pineda has not commented on them.

The Vatican first officially heard the abuse allegations against Bishop Pineda while they were looking into the financial corruption allegations against Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga.

In March, the National Catholic Register published accounts of two seminarians who accused Pineda of making unwanted advances, and corroborated their accusations with quotes from other sources in the Tegucigalpa archdiocese who claimed the auxiliary bishop’s proclivities were a matter of common knowledge – at least in ecclesiastical circles.

It comes as the Church in the United States is reeling from an abuse scandal.

The former Archbishop of Washington, DC, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been suspended from active ministry pending investigation after a former altar boy accused him of molestation more than forty years ago. Since those accusations became public last June, more witnesses have come forward to accuse Cardinal McCarrick – many of them former priests and seminarians – one of them the son of a close family friend, who told the New York Times the abuse began when he was 11 years old and continued for two decades.

Cardinal McCarrick’s alleged offences were said to have been an open secret among churchmen high and low: the diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey and the Archdiocese of Newark settled two complaints from adults a dozen years ago, while clerics and groups of lay people alike made repeated attempts to dissuade the Vatican from promoting McCarrick in the late ‘90s. Their efforts were in vain: Pope St. John Paul II appointed McCarrick to the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, in November of the year 2000.

Cardinal McCarrick held his post until May of 2006, when he resigned in good standing and went into a comfortable retirement from which he continued to exercise influence within the Church while collecting awards and honours both ecclesiastical and civil.

Several Church leaders expressed shock and sadness over the news regarding Cardinal McCarrick. The leading Jesuit magazine in the United States, America, published an editorial this week, saying, “The Catholic Church cannot pretend to be shocked about the pattern of sexual abuse of adult seminarians by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick[.]” America’s editors also wrote, “Cardinal McCarrick should have been called to account for the terrible misuse of his office and authority. The church and its leaders should be ashamed of their failure to do so.”

Pope Francis has faced increasingly intense criticism and close scrutiny of his record of leadership against clerical sexual abuse since late January, when he accused Chilean abuse victims of calumny. Following public outrage and media pressure, the Holy Father opened an investigation into the long-standing and widespread allegations of systemic corruption and rot in the Chilean hierarchy, which resigned en masse earlier this year.

The Pope has only accepted the resignation of a handful of the country’s more-than-thirty bishops.

The one-sentence announcement in the daily bulletin from the Press Office of the Holy See this morning does not hint at the reason for Bishop Pineda’s resignation.