Argentine Bishop Zanchetta convicted of sexually abusing seminarians

GustavoZanchetta DiocesisOran20112019 1 1 Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta. | Diocesis de Orán

Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on Friday, March 4, after an Argentine court found him guilty of sexually abusing seminarians. 

Zanchetta, 58, pleaded not guilty to the charge of “aggravated continued simple sexual abuse committed by a recognized minister of religion” on Feb. 21. He was accused of abusing two seminarians, who were identified by the acronyms “G.G.F.L.” and “C.M.”  

The two victims said that Zanchetta had made “amorous proposals” and had requested “massages” from the two. 

Journalist Silvia Noviatsky posted a photo on Twitter commenting that "relatives and friends of seminarians are crying outside" the court because the sentence against Zanchetta "was very little for the damage he did."

Zanchetta led the Diocese of Orán, located in northern Argentina, from 2013 until 2017. His episcopal appointment was one of the first done by Pope Francis in his native Argentina. 

He stepped down in 2017, claiming “health reasons,” and was subsequently appointed as an assessor at the Vatican’s Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), a specially created position. The APSA oversees the Vatican’s real estate holdings and other sovereign assets.

As of June 2021, Zanchetta was no longer with the APSA. He previously had been suspended, then reinstated, from the role amid a canonical investigation into his conduct.  

Zanchetta’s trial, which was initially set to begin in October, was delayed four months at the request of his attorney. The defense attorney had asked the judges to wait for the files of the canonical process that Zanchetta is undergoing at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Vatican has not yet publicized any information regarding the canonical process and any determinations that have been reached regarding Zanchetta. 

After the bishop's conviction on Friday, the magistrates ordered the immediate arrest of the bishop and that, as the sentence has been determined, that he be registered "in the Genetic Data Bank."

Journalist Silvia Noviatsky posted a photo on Twitter commenting that "relatives and friends of seminarians are crying outside" the court because the sentence against Zanchetta "was very little for the damage he did." You can watch a video of the courtroom scene below.

Pope Francis' past statements on Zanchetta

While this is Zanchetta’s first conviction in a criminal court, allegations of sexual misconduct were first raised in 2015.

According to Argentinian newspaper El Tribuno, one of Zanchetta’s secretaries accidentally discovered sexually explicit images that were sent and recieved from his cell phone in 2015. The secretary alerted authorities, stating that the pictures included “young people” engaged in sexual activity, as well as lewd images of the bishop. 

In October 2015, Pope Francis summoned Zanchetta to Rome for five days. At the time, Zanchetta informed Pope Francis that his phone had been hacked, and that the allegations against him were motivated by anti-Pope Francis sentiment. 

Francis reportedly accepted the bishop’s explanation that his cell phone had been hacked, and took no further action.

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In a May 2019 interview with Valentina Alazraki, a Mexican journalist for Televisa, Pope Francis responded to the criticism he received for having appointed Zanchetta as assessor to APSA in 2017.

The pope said that some described the bishop as “despot, bossy, well, financial management of things is not entirely clear, it seems, this isn’t proven. But certainly the clergy felt they were not well treated by him” so “as clergy they made a complaint to the Nunciature.”

The pontiff said that he called the Nunciature and the Nuncio stressed that “the complaint is serious for mistreatment, abuse of power, we could say, right?” The pope said he then sent Zanchetta to Spain "to take a psychiatric test."

The pope said that “the result of the test was within the normal range” and they advised that he receive therapy once a month in Madrid, so Zanchetta didn’t return to Argentina.

Regarding the criticism for alleged financial mismanagement, the pope said that “financially he was messy but there was no financial mismanagement because of the things he worked on. He was messy but the vision was good.”

Pope Francis explained that after receiving the results of the preliminary investigation that was carried out on Zanchetta in 2019, “I saw that a trial was necessary. So I passed it on to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where they are conducting the trial.”

Pope Francis then concluded: "How the trial will end, I don't know, I leave it in their hands."

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There was no word from the Vatican on Friday as to whether it would issue a statement regarding Zanchetta’s conviction.

ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language sister agency, contributed to this story.

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