New Documents Challenge Vatican Claims About Accused Argentine Bishop

Newspaper purports Vatican knew about Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta before 2017 appointment to a Vatican office, which Vatican has denied.

(photo: Public domain)

VATICAN CITY — An Argentine newspaper has published documents purporting to show that the Vatican knew about allegations of sexual abuse by Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta before his December 2017 appointment to a Vatican office, a charge that the Vatican has repeatedly denied.

Bishop Zanchetta, 54, had resigned as bishop of Orán in August 2017 and was appointed four months later by Pope Francis to a newly created position in the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which oversees the Vatican’s assets and real estate holdings.

Documents published Feb. 21 by The Tribune, a newspaper in the Salta region of Argentina, purport to show that the Vatican received a complaint about Bishop Zanchetta in 2015 and that Pope Francis had spoken to Bishop Zanchetta after the complaint was filed. The documents also claim that Bishop Zanchetta failed to register and report the sale of two church properties worth millions of dollars.

The documents seem to confirm earlier reporting by The Associated Press. Bishop Zanchetta also faces a judicial complaint of sexual abuse in Argentina that was recently made public.

Father Juan Jose Manzano, Bishop Zanchetta’s former vicar general in the Diocese of Orán, told The Associated Press that the Vatican received complaints against Bishop Zanchetta in both 2015 and 2017, but that the 2015 complaint against Bishop Zanchetta was not issued as an official canonical complaint.

According to The Tribune’s report, one of Bishop Zanchetta’s secretaries alerted authorities after accidentally finding sexually explicit images sent and received on Bishop Zanchetta’s cellphone. The complaint says that some of the images depict “young people” having sex in addition to lewd images of Bishop Zanchetta.

The report says three of Bishop Zanchetta’s vicars general and two monsignors made a formal internal complaint before the Argentinian nunciature in 2016, alleging inappropriate behavior with seminarians, such as encouraging them to drink alcohol and favoring the more “graceful” (attractive) among them.

Pope Francis summoned Bishop Zanchetta to Rome for five days in October 2015. The Pope appeared to have accepted Bishop Zanchetta’s excuse that his cellphone had been hacked and dismissed the allegations.

The 2017 internal accusation, which The Tribune says alleged more explicit abuse by Bishop Zanchetta of seminarians, resulted in Bishop Zanchetta’s exit from the diocese, though Bishop Zanchetta said he was resigning for health reasons. The Vatican did not open an investigation at that time.

Father Manzano said part of the reason the allegations against Zanchetta may have not been taken seriously by the Vatican was because of the bishop’s close relationship with Pope Francis, who appointed him bishop of Orán in 2013. 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.”

The current bishop of Orán is in the process of collecting testimonies regarding allegations against Bishop Zanchetta, which will be sent to the Congregation for Bishops. Bishop Zanchetta is on a leave of absence while the investigation takes place.

Vatican Press Office spokesman Alessandro Gisotti in January “resolutely” repeated a Vatican statement that said no sexual-abuse charges had yet emerged against the bishop at the time Pope Francis appointed Bishop Zanchetta to his position at the APSA. Gisotti said the charges only emerged in the fall of 2018.

When asked at a Feb. 24 news conference about the Zanchetta case, Gisotti reiterated that an investigation was ongoing.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the Vatican’s sex-abuse prosecutor and adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told reporters that he did not know any specifics about the Zanchetta case, but that “if someone is investigating a case, that’s not covering it up.”

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