washingtonpost.com  > World > Europe > Western Europe > Pope and Vatican
Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras

Crusader for Debt Relief

Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page A40


He's a saxophone player who grew up collecting Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comic books. He walks for exercise at least an hour a day. Aviation is his hobby: He's a pilot who once built a mock-up of a cockpit in his house, and he has assembled more than 300 model planes.

There's a lot that's unusual about Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, including the fact that he became his country's first cardinal when Pope John Paul II elevated him to that rank in 2001.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga (Steven Dearinger - Amarillo Globe-News via AP)

Rodriguez Maradiaga, who turned 62 in December, could draw votes in Rome because he represents the growing number and power of Latin American Catholics. In addition, he's respected by conservatives and reformers alike, and many in the church see him as a potential bridge between the groups.

On many issues he is more flexible than many of his peers in Latin America, where conservative Catholicism is standard. But on issues of sexuality, his public statements have followed John Paul's conservative line. He has suggested that the United States has exported liberal views on abortion and contraception to its neighbors, to their detriment.

Rodriguez Maradiaga, who was president of the Conference of Latin American Bishops from 1995 to 1999, has also been a crusader for debt relief for Third World countries. He has said millions of poor people are suffering as their governments struggle to pay back loans that were often squandered by corrupt leaders. "It is necessary to let Latin America breathe a little more and aspire to grow economically," he once said. "And with such a great weight it cannot."

Rodriguez Maradiaga has often condemned free-market economic policies promoted by the United States. "Neoliberal capitalism carries injustices and inequity in its genetic code. Latin America is poor, and its people are poor because they have been exploited by the rich," he said.

Rodriguez Maradiaga speaks eight languages and holds degrees in philosophy, theology, clinical psychology and psychotherapy. Ordained a priest in June 1970 in Guatemala, he was installed as bishop in 1978 in Honduras and became archbishop of Tegucigalpa in 1993.

When he was elevated to cardinal, Honduras erupted in celebration. With church bells tolling and cheering people spilling into the streets, then-President Carlos Flores Facusse proclaimed: "His designation is motivation for Hondurans to have faith and hope that things will be better from this moment on."

-- Kevin Sullivan

© 2005 The Washington Post Company