VATICAN CITY — Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta will be returning to his home country to face charges of sexual and financial misconduct on Tuesday, he announced in a statement through his canon lawyer on Saturday.
Bishop Zanchetta, the former Bishop of Oran, has pledged to fully cooperate with authorities, and said he will appear at a court hearing on Thursday. Bishop Zanchetta has been accused of “aggravated continuous sexual abuse” of two adult-aged seminarians.
The bishop’s last known residence was in the Domus Santa Marta in Vatican City, where he is currently suspended from his role as assessor at APSA, the Holy See’s central bank and sovereign asset manager. He has repeatedly denied suggestions he was fleeing justice.
“We wish to clarify that Bishop Zanchetta is neither in an unknown location nor of a refugee status, with the intention of escaping from justice,” said a statement from Dr. D. Javier Belda Iniesta, Bishop Zanchetta’s canon lawyer, released to the media on November 23.
The bishop has been widely believed to have returned to Rome after he was allowed by the court to leave Argentine, having presented a document showing that he is employed within Vatican City.
Per the Saturday statement, Bishop Zanchetta was confirmed as still living “in the residence that has been communicated to the judicial authorities to the appropriate effects,” that is the Domus Santa Marta.
Iniesta said that Zanchetta had been living at Domus, where Pope Francis also has chosen to live, for the past two years which, the statement said, predated any criminal accusations against him. The first accusations of sexual misconduct against Bishop Zanchetta were made in 2015--four years ago.
Bishop Zanchetta was one of Pope Francis’ first episcopal appointments in Argentina, where he led the Diocese of Oran where he was appointed in July of 2013.
After being allowed to resign as Bishop of Orán for “health reasons” in 2017, Pope Francis named Bishop Zanchetta to the specially created position of assessor at the Administration for the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), the body which acts as the Holy See’s central reserve bank and sovereign wealth fund.
Argentine media has since reported that the bishop was first accused of sexually inappropriate behavior as early as 2015.
According to a report from El Tribuno, one of the Bishop Zanchetta’s secretaries alerted authorities after accidentally finding sexually explicit images sent and received on Zanchetta’s cell phone in 2015. The complaint says that some of the images depict “young people” having sex, in addition to lewd images of Bishop Zanchetta himself.
Pope Francis summoned Bishop Zanchetta to Rome for five days in October 2015. The bishop claimed his phone and computer had been hacked, and that the accusations were motivated by ill feeling towards the pope. Pope Francis reportedly accepted the bishop’s excuse that his cell phone had been hacked, and took no further action.
Fr. Juan José Manzano, the former vicar general of the Diocese of Orán has claimed publicly that he first reported Bishop Zanchetta in 2015, after the pornographic images were found on his phone. Manzano says he also reported him again in 2017.
In January, 2019, the Holy See confirmed Zanchetta was the subject of a canonical investigation and had been suspended from his role at APSA. It is unclear what, if any, active role he currently has in the curia following his presentation of a letter of employment to the Argentine court.