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Close pope advisor in hot water over university payments: report

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Rome (AFP)

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga, one of Pope Francis's closest advisers, for years received 35,000 euros ($41,600) a month from a Catholic university in his home country, an Italian weekly has reported.

L'Espresso on Thursday said the cardinal was paid more than 500,000 euros in 2015 alone by the Catholic University of Tegucigalpa, citing an internal report from the academic institution.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke confirmed Friday the pope had ordered an investigation, without going into detail.

Some of the money was invested in London financial firms such as Leman Wealth Management, the report said, while funds transferred to German accounts seemed to have disappeared.

Maradiaga, who leads a powerful group of senior clerics that advise Francis notably on church reforms, has in the past been suggested as a possible candidate for pope.

L'Espresso revealed that an Argentine bishop sent by Francis as an envoy to Honduras in May returned with a report detailing the payments based on accounts from about 50 witnesses, including university and church staff members.

"The powerful cardinal Oscar Maradiaga, a staunch supporter of a poor and pauperist Church... has received over the years from the Catholic University of Tegucigalpa around $41,600 dollars a month," wrote L'Espresso journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi.

A member of the Tegucigalpa archdiocese, Father Carlos Rubio, said the Catholic university financially supported "all bishops, not only the cardinal, to help dioceses" in poverty-stricken Honduras, in an interview with Catholic news agency ACI.

"To receive this money is not an act of corruption, because it is not money from the state, but money from an institution that depends on the church," he said.

The revelations came as Pope Francis lashed out at ousted officials of the Vatican's governing body for presenting themselves as "martyrs" in his annual Christmas address on Thursday.

"They let themselves be corrupted by ambition and vain glory," Francis said in his blistering address to the Curia.

On December 29, Cardinal Maradiaga turns 75, an age at which all bishops offer to resign, and the pope can decide whether or not he will accept.

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