He has been accused of ignoring allegations of sexual misconduct among seminarians

Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, who has been accused of ignoring allegations of sexual misconduct in his diocese, has said he is the victim of a journalist “hit man”.

The Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, co-ordinator of Pope Francis’s Council of Cardinals and one of Pope Francis’s closest confidantes, was heavily attacked by former US nuncio Archbishop Carlo María Viganò in an 11-page letter made public at the weekend.

Asked about the Viganò allegations, the cardinal said: “I am the victim of a ‘hit man’ who practises media harassment. His name is Edward Pentin and he works for an EWTN newspaper called the National Catholic Register.”

Earlier this summer Pentin reported a letter from dozens of seminarians alleging widespread sexual misconduct at Tegucigalpa’s seminary. Pentin later claimed that Maradiaga had dismissed the seminarians as “gossipers” at a bishops’ conference meeting. (The cardinal has not yet responded publicly to the seminarians’ letter.)

Archbishop Viganò cited Maradiaga’s allegedly dismissive response in his letter. He also noted that Maradiaga had appeared to defend an auxiliary bishop accused of sexually abusing seminarians. The bishop in question, 57-year-old Bishop Juan José Pineda, had his resignation accepted in July, although no reason was given.

Maradiaga, in an interview with Periodista Digital, complained that Pentin had repeated “anonymous libel … published by another Honduran hit man in a local media that constantly insults me and slanders me”.

He added: “Who am I, archbishop of a small diocese and a small country, to appear slandered and defamed in the world press, with no possibility of defending myself?”

He said he was being attacked because, as the co-ordinator of the Council of Cardinals, he was working on reforming the Curia. “The enemies of this reform want to end this council,” he said. “The main objective is Pope Francis.”

The cardinal also said he was “surprised” by Viganò’s testimony and that the sin of slander was “very serious” and “to be forgiven needs the author to repair the damage done”.

He said: “To ask for the resignation of the Pope, in my opinion, is a sin against the Holy Spirit, who ultimately is the guide of the Church.”

In a statement to the Catholic Herald, the journalist Edward Pentin said: “It’s very sad and regrettable that the cardinal should choose to launch this attack rather than deal with the very serious issues relating to the Church in Honduras on which I’ve reported, and which he has still yet to answer.

“These include the absence of any information regarding sanctions taken against his Auxiliary Bishop Juan Jose Pineda, who was forced to resign in July due to allegations of sexually abusing seminarians and financial misconduct under the cardinal’s watch; the lack of any details concerning the papal investigation last year into the Church in Honduras by retired Bishop Jorge Pedro Casaretto; the whereabouts of a $1.3m charitable grant that Bishop Pineda obtained from the Honduran government but which has never been accounted for; continued questions over accounting in the archdiocese, particularly relating to the Catholic University of Honduras; and the problems of homosexuality in Honduras’ major seminary.

“I have written to the cardinal four times this year asking him for comment on all of these issues and to give his side of the story, including inviting him to meet me when he was here in Rome at a [Council of Cardinals] meeting. A colleague assisting me on these articles has also reached out to him on a number of occasions for comment. All of these requests were never answered.”