New documents raise questions about Pope Francis and Bishop Zanchetta

New documents challenge Vatican claims about accused Argentine bishop

Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA
Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA

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

Zanchetta, 54, had resigned as Bishop of Orán in Aug. 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 Zanchetta in 2015 and that Pope Francis had spoken to Zanchetta after the complaint was filed. The documents also claim that 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. Zanchetta also faces a judicial complaint of sexual abuse in Argentina that was recently made public.

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

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

The report says three of 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 more the more “graceful” (attractive) among them.

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

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

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, Manzano said he didn’t believe the Vatican meant to lie or hide anything about 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 Zanchetta, which will be sent to the Congregation for Bishops. 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 Zanchetta his position at the APSA. Gisotti said the charges only emerged in the fall of 2018.

When asked at a Feb. 24 press conference about Zachetta’s case, Gisotti reiterated that an investigation was ongoing.

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

Tags: Catholic News, Clerical sexual abuse, Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta