Pope Francis went on to explain that Zanchetta “was economically disordered, but he did not manage the works he did badly economically.”
“He was messy, but the vision was good,” he said. “So I started looking for a successor. Once the new bishop was installed, I decided to start the preliminary investigation of the accusations leveled against him. I have appointed the archbishop of Tucumán. The Congregation for Bishops has proposed various names to me. So I called the president of the Argentine bishops’ conference, I had him choose, and he said that the best choice for that position was the archbishop of Tucumán.”
The pope continued: “The preliminary investigation has officially arrived. I read it and saw that it was necessary to go through a trial. So I passed it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They are in the process.”
“Why did I tell all this? To tell impatient people, who say ‘he did nothing,’ that the pope must not publish what he is doing every day, but from the very first moment of this case, I have not stood by.”
“There are very long cases, which need more time, like this one, and now I explain why. Because, for one reason or another, I did not have the necessary elements, but today a process is underway in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In other words, I didn’t stop.”
As the case proceeded toward trial, Zanchetta traveled back and forth between Rome and Argentina. In June 2020, he resumed work at APSA. But his assignment ended in June 2021, after which he returned home.
While the criminal trial in Argentina has concluded, there is no news of the canonical trial launched by the Vatican as early as 2019. Ahead of Zanchetta’s trial, Argentine prosecutors had asked for the files of the Vatican investigation. Having not received them, they decided to proceed regardless.
So will we have to wait for the end of the canonical process against Zanchetta to receive an official word from the Holy See? Maybe. But it’s also possible that the pope will decide to say a few words informally, perhaps during the in-flight press conference on his return from Malta on April 3.
The Holy See has not often commented on criminal sentences. It did not even do so in the case of Cardinal George Pell, who was unjustly condemned to prison in 2018, before Australia’s High Court unanimously overturned his conviction for five counts of alleged sexual abuse in 2020.
In such cases, the Vatican is seeking to avoid disputing judicial proceedings, while expressing its closeness to people who are presumed to be innocent.
Pell remained a member of the pope’s Council of Cardinals until his mandate expired. It was not renewed because he was over 75, the age at which a bishop customarily retires.
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In one declaration, the Holy See press office stressed that it held the Australian judicial system in the highest esteem, but at the same time, it was necessary to consider that Pell maintained his innocence and the appeal trial was pending.
The Holy See also confirmed the activated measures: that the cardinal could not publicly exercise his priestly ministry and had to avoid contact with minors.
In that same declaration, it was not mentioned that Pell was no longer the prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy. Only later did the Holy See press office confirm that Pell no longer held his position in the Roman Curia.
This had the effect of underlining that Pell’s post in the Curia had reached its natural expiration date and was not taken away in response to the Australian court’s decision. This turned out to be a winning position after Pell's exoneration.
The Vatican took a different approach with another Australian prelate: Archbishop Philip Wilson. This case is the one most similar to Zanchetta’s.
In 2018, the archbishop was convicted of concealing abuse committed by a priest named James Fletcher who had served in the same diocese as Wilson in the 1970s. Wilson was sentenced to 12 months of house arrest and presented his resignation as archbishop of Adelaide to Pope Francis, who accepted it.