VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has reiterated an earlier statement in which it said it did not know until fall 2018 about sexual abuse and other misconduct allegedly perpetrated by an Argentine bishop close to Pope Francis, who was appointed to a Vatican post in 2017 after resigning from his Argentinian diocese.

In a short communiqué issued Jan. 22, Holy See spokesman Alessandro Gisotti criticized “some misleading reconstructions” about the case of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, adding that he “resolutely” repeated what he had said in a statement issued Jan. 4.

In that earlier statement, Gisotti said Bishop Zanchetta had resigned from the Argentinian Diocese of Oran for reasons “linked to his difficulty in managing relations with the diocesan clergy and in very tense relations with the priests of the diocese.”

He stressed that at the time of his decision to resign, which took place in 2017, Bishop Zanchetta had been accused of “authoritarianism,” but there had been “no accusations of sexual abuse against him.”

News of those allegations “date back to this fall,” Gisotti said, implying that the Vatican did not know about them when Bishop Zanchetta was transferred to Rome in 2017 and appointed “councillor” to APSA, the Curial department dealing with Vatican investments and real estate holdings.

But a Jan. 20 article by The Associated Press appeared to undermine the date when the Vatican said it knew of Bishop Zanchetta’s alleged sexual misconduct with seminarians and other allegations of disreputable behavior.

Citing primarily comments from Father Juan Jose Manzano, a former vicar general of the Diocese of Oran, the article said the Vatican received information about sexually inappropriate behavior starting in 2015, including obscene naked selfies.

Then, Father Manzano said, in May or June 2017, the Vatican received reports of alleged misconduct and harassment, although Father Manzano noted they didn’t constitute formal canonical complaints.

He denied any contradiction in the Vatican’s Jan. 4 statement, distinguishing between a report about alleged sexual abuse and a formal complaint.

 

Father Arana’s Involvement

But a further question has emerged concerning reports that the Pope sent Bishop Zanchetta to Jesuit Father German Arana in 2017. Francis has sent at least three bishops with psychiatric problems to Father Arana, who is based in Madrid, for counseling.

They include Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who resigned last year as bishop of the Diocese of Osorno following accusations of covering up for notorious abuser Father Fernando Karadima, and Honduran Bishop Juan José Pineda Fasquelle, who resigned last year as auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa following allegations of sexually abusing seminarians and financial misconduct.

Father Arana is the Pope’s “psychologist and Jesuit adviser,” an informed source told the Register. “He sends to him all those who have problems, especially with homosexuality.”

The source believed it was therefore “obvious” that the Pope, and/or the Vatican, knew about Bishop Zanchetta's alleged abuse in 2017, contrary to what the Vatican said.

Father Arana did not respond to a Register inquiry asking if he counseled Bishop Zanchetta on any problem related to sexuality.

The Register also asked Gisotti if the Vatican had ordered Bishop Zanchetta to receive counseling from Father Arana and if any kind of sexual issue was involved in that decision.

Gisotti replied Jan. 15 that he had “no more to add” to what he had already said.

In the Jan. 20 AP report, Father Manzano defended Pope Francis’ handling of the case, saying the Holy Father himself should be considered a victim of Bishop Zanchetta’s “manipulation.”

The Pope appointed Bishop Zanchetta to Oran in 2013, one of his first Argentine appointments. He knew the bishop well, as Bishop Zanchetta had served as executive undersecretary of the Argentine bishops’ conference. Then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was the conference’s president from 2005 to 2011.

According to AP, Father Manzano said Pope Francis had been Bishop Zanchetta’s confessor and treated him as a “spiritual son,” but Father Manzano believes there was “never any intent to hide anything.”

“There was never any intent of the Holy Father to defend him against anything,” the former vicar general told AP.

In his latest Jan. 22 statement, Gisotti said he wished to “emphasize that the case is being studied, and when this process is over, information will be forthcoming regarding the results.”