Men touted as a possible next pope of the Roman Catholic Church rarely get involved in public debates over a coup d’etat or wars of words with heads of state. But that’s what Tegucigalpa Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga has done recently in the the political crisis in his country, Honduras. Before the overthrown President Manuel Zelaya made his failed attempt to return home, Rodriguez issued a statement in a televised address declaring his ouster legal and warning Zelaya could spur “a bloodbath” if he came back to Honduras.
(Photo: Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, 16 April 2005/Kimimasa Mayama)
The July 3 televised statement, signed by the 11 bishops of Honduras, exhorted Hondurans to seek a peaceful solution to the political crisis and rejected international criticism of Zelaya’s ouster even as it condemned the manner he was kicked out of the country.Rodriguez, one of the Latin America’s most prominent Catholic leaders, was frequently mentioned as a possible next pontiff in 2005 when he and his fellow cardinals gathered to elect a successor to Pope John Paul. There was much talk at the time that a cardinal from the developing world, where the majority of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics live, took over at the Vatican. When the conclave opted for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the German was called “the last European pope.” The Latin Americans could win the next conclave if they could only rally behind one candidate, the Italian media speculated. Rodriguez, then a young 62, was often mentioned as the man with the best chances.In the meantime, Rodriguez, a former president of the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM), has taken over as president of Caritas Internationalis, the worldwide Catholic charity organisation. That gives the polyglot prelate an international profile bound to boost his name recognition among other cardinals.Like Roberto Micheletti, who was appointed president by Honduran lawmakers after the June 28 coup, Rodriguez argued that kicking Zelaya out of office was fully backed by Honduran law. Rodriguez said Zelaya’s bid for a nationwide referendum that could have extended presidential term limits violated an article in the Honduran constitution, which states that anyone who seeks to change a prohibition on presidential reelection immediately loses any office they hold.But Rodriguez also backed off from supporting the staging of the coup, noting that the government’s move to forcibly deport Zelaya was blatantly illegal. He went on to scold the Organization of American States for not paying closer attention to the crisis brewing in Honduras as Zelaya prepared to hold his referendum. He also took a veiled swipe Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who was building a growing alliance with Zelaya.
(Photo: Ousted President Zelaya, 6 July 2009/Luis Galdamez)
“The Honduran people ask why there has been no condemnation of the warlike threats against our country. If the inter-American system is limited to protecting democracy at the ballot box but not in fostering good government, the prevention of political, economic and social crisis, it doesn’t do any good to react tardily in the face of them,” the bishops statement said.In an interview this week with CNN en Espanol, Rodriguez took the direct approach to addressing Chavez: “I want to take this opportunity to say that we totally reject the meddling of the Venezuelan president. We are a small country, but a sovereign one.”Rodriguez and Chavez had traded barbs in the past after verbal attacks by the Venezuelan leader on the church in the Andean nation, as well as swipes at the Pope, with Chavez calling Rodriguez an “imperialist clown.”Prior to the coup on June 19, Honduran bishops led by Rodriguez had issued a call for dialogue between the countries political forces, warning that upcoming elections, Zelaya’s referendum and “rumors of a coup” were dangerously polarizing the country.