|Honduran cardinal criticizes
“industry” of evangelical churches
By Paul Jeffrey
Tegucigalpa (CNS) - The archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez, has angered Honduran evangelicals with his suggestion that many non-Catholic churches are an “industry” designed to enrich their pastors.
“This phenomenon is becoming an industry today, because whoever so desires can accredit themselves as a pastor. There’s no process of accreditation, there’s no superior authority, and what they have in common is they are anti-Catholic and they make people pay a tithe,” said Rodriguez during an April 28 press conference in Guatemala.
“There are people who don’t do well in a profession, so they become pastors and then they do quite well economically,” Rodriguez said. “They are quite comfortable because they don’t have to account to anyone, they have no hierarchy, no seminary, no episcopal conference.”
While Rodriguez’ remarks didn’t attract much attention in Guatemala, where ecumenical relations have long been troubled, here in Honduras they touched off a heated debate.
“We want to have a cardinal, not an inquisitor,” said Sergio Handal, pastor of the evangelical Church of the Great Commission in Tegucigalpa.
“There are much more serious problems in Honduras. It’s a country that’s not producing, with a high level of poverty,” Handal said. “The cold war and the time of confrontation is past. We don’t want to relive the inquisition that died off five centuries ago. Today they can no longer persecute and kill evangelicals.”
Rodriguez, who was named a cardinal in February, suggested that the government interior ministry “should get out the lists of the churches that are legally registered, in order to see what kind of congregations they belong to and how they are accredited.”
Rodriguez said he was willing to do the same. “I have a document where Pope John Paul II accredits me. I don’t know what they do when they install a church and accredit themselves.”
In response to Rodriquez’ charges, the Honduran interior minister, Vera Rubi, announced she would review all pending requests for legal status from evangelical churches.
“If Monseñor says so, we will look at the evidence in order to verify it, in order to later take whatever actions we’ll have to take to stop such abuse,” said Rubi.
Several observers were surprised by Rodriguez’ remarks. Compared with other bishops in the region, he has a well-earned reputation for being one of the more ecumenical. In his first mass after returning home from his investiture as a cardinal, he recognized several evangelical leaders by name, thanking them for being present.
Yet his recent remarks have provoked consternation among many who’ve engaged in ecumenical dialogue with the archbishop in recent years. An Episcopal Church leader refused to participate in an ecumenical dialogue on May 10, stating in a private letter to the meeting’s organizers that he was “not willing to continue sitting at the same table, eating crackers and drinking coffee together, until the cardinal clarifies his remarks.”
Hector Zelaya, Rodriguez’ assistant for ecumenical relations, has met with several Protestant and evangelical leaders in recent days, trying to assure them of Rodriguez’ continuing commitment to ecumenism.
Zelaya told CNS that the Honduran press, in reporting the cardinal’s remarks, has not distinguished between traditional Protestant churches, with which he says Rodriguez maintains good relations, and those recently emerged evangelical churches which have demonstrated aggressive proselytism and less than transparent financial accountability.
“Why is the work of denouncing the abuses by those churches left solely to the Catholic Church?”, Zelaya asked. “The associations of evangelical pastors have to be more assertive in defining which pastors belong to their organizations. There is a proliferation of new sects, and who will distinguish between the good ones and the bad ones?”
Zelaya said that several Tegucigalpa movie theaters have been taken over by Brazilian preachers affiliated with the Universal Church of the Reign of God. “Whose job is it to denounce them? Who is victimized by their presence here? It’s the poor, and someone needs to speak out in defense of the poor,” Zelaya said.
According to Osmundo Ponce, a Presbyterian pastor and rector of the Honduran campus of the Latinamerican Biblical University, which is based in Costa Rica, non-Catholics should be careful not to protest too much. “There are serious problems in some of our churches,” Ponce told CNS. “Some pastors are not reporting clearly how the offerings are used. And how is it possible that people are dying again of hepatitis in Honduras and yet several churches are constructing huge new buildings?”
Ponce is one of several evangelical and protestant leaders who have requested a meeting with Rodriguez to discuss the crisis in ecumenism here.
“I’m very suspicious that what he has said has been exaggerated by the press,” Ponce said. “His remarks made headlines the day before the May Day marches, and served as a convenient distraction from the demands for economic change being made by the labor movement.”
Ponce also suggested that the opposition National Party had taken advantage of the cardinal’s commentary. Hondurans will vote for president in November, and the ruling Liberal Party candidate, Congress President Rafael Pineda Ponce, has made significant inroads with evangelicals in the last year. Pineda Ponce’s wife is an evangelical, and last year Pineda Ponce pushed an evangelical-sponsored bill through Congress that would have required obligatory reading of the Bible in all Honduran schools. President Carlos Flores allowed the bill to die without a signature late in the year. Ponce suggested that by heightening tensions between evangelicals and Catholics, media supporting National Party candidate Ricardo Maduro were attempting to make Catholic voters afraid of Pineda Ponce.
Space for this website has been provided courtesy
The General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church