Former Vicar: Vatican Knew About Sex-Abuse Allegations Against Argentine Bishop

AP report contradicts a Vatican statement made just weeks ago.

(photo: Pixabay)

BUEONIS AIRES, Argentina — In an exclusive report from The Associated Press, the former vicar to Argentine Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta said that the Vatican had had information about sexual-abuse allegations against Bishop Zanchetta for several years.

This contradicts a Vatican statement made just weeks ago in which it was said that the Holy See had only gained knowledge of sexual-abuse allegations against Bishop Zanchetta a few months ago.

Bishop Zanchetta resigned as bishop of Orán, Argentina, on Aug. 1, 2017, slightly more than four years after his appointment there. At the time, he cited health problems and “difficulty in managing relations with the diocesan clergy and in very tense relations with the priests of the diocese” and “an incapacity to govern the clergy.”

About four months after his resignation, Bishop Zanchetta was appointed by Francis to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) in December 2017. The APSA manages the Holy See’s assets and real estate holdings.

On January 3, 2019, the Vatican announced that it had first received accusations of alleged sexual misconduct against Bishop Zanchetta only a few months ago, in the fall of 2018.

Alessandro Gisotti, interim Holy See press officer, said Jan. 3 that, “at the time of his resignation, there had been against (Bishop Zanchetta) accusations of authoritarianism, but there had been against him no accusation of sexual abuse. … The accusations of sexual abuse date to this autumn.”

But Father Juan Jose Manzano, Zanchetta’s former vicar, told the AP that the Vatican received complaints against Bishop Zanchetta in both 2015 and 2017 for alleged “obscene behavior,” misconduct and sexual harassment of adult seminarians and naked selfies found on his phone.

Father Manzano, who now is a parish priest in Argentina, told the AP that he and several other diocesan officials alerted the Vatican in 2015 of Bishop Zanchetta’s concerning behavior. He said he sent the Vatican the naked selfies and other compromising images that had been found on the bishop’s phones.

“In 2015, we just sent a ‘digital support,’ with selfie photos of the previous bishop in obscene or out-of-place behavior that seemed inappropriate and dangerous,” he told the AP. The 2015 complaint against Bishop Zanchetta was not issued as an official canonical complaint, Father Manzano noted.

“It was an alarm that we made to the Holy See via some friendly bishops. The nunciature didn’t intervene directly, but the Holy Father summoned Zanchetta, and he justified himself saying that his cellphone had been hacked and that there were people who were out to damage the image of the Pope.”

Father Manzano said that, for a time after being summoned to the Vatican, Bishop Zanchetta’s behavior seemed to improve. But then it worsened, and he would allegedly visit the seminary “at all hours,” get drunk with seminarians, and travel with them alone, often without the permission of the rector of the seminary.

Again in May or June 2017, Father Manzano told the AP that he and the rector of the seminary made a second complaint against Bishop Zanchetta to the Vatican nuncio in Buenos Aires, who forwarded it along to the Vatican. At that time, the situation had become “much more serious, not just because there had been a question about sexual abuses, but because the diocese was increasingly heading into the abyss,” Father Manzano said.

Shortly thereafter, in July 2017, Bishop Zanchetta announced his resignation from his position as bishop of Oran. After spending some time in Spain, Bishop Zanchetta took up his position in the Vatican in December 2017.

Father Manzano said part of the reason the allegations against Bishop Zanchetta may have not been taken seriously by the Vatican was because of the bishop’s close relationship with Pope Francis.

Francis had appointed Bishop Zanchetta as head of Oran in 2013. Bishop Zanchetta had also been the executive undersecretary of the Argentine bishops’ conference, which was headed by then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from 2005 to 2011.

Still, Father Manzano said he didn’t believe the Vatican meant to lie or hide anything about Bishop Zanchetta. He said he believed Francis and other Vatican officials had also been victims of the bishop’s “manipulation.” He said the recent Vatican statement may have been making a distinction between informally filed allegations and a formal complaint against Bishop Zanchetta.

“There was never any intent to hide anything. There was never any intent of the Holy Father to defend him against anything,” Father Manzano said.

According to Gisotti’s Jan. 3 statement, the current bishop of Oran is in the process of collecting testimonies regarding the allegations against Bishop Zanchetta, which will be sent to the Congregation for Bishops.

“If the elements needed to proceed are confirmed, the case will be referred to the special commission for bishops,” Gisotti said.

Bishop Zanchetta has been placed on a temporary leave from his APSA position while the investigation is ongoing.