Report: Pope Francis knew about Argentina bishop’s sexual misconduct prior to Vatican promotion
January 20, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis promoted one of his protegés within the Vatican, Argentine bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta, despite the Vatican having received evidence prior to the bishop's promotion of sexual misconduct, which included accusations of "sexual harassment" of adult seminarians, taking "nude selfies," and exhibiting “obscene” behavior.
The Rev. Juan José Manzano, the former general vicar of Zanchetta in Argentina, told these facts to Associated Press, which released its report today. He stated that already in 2015, and then in 2017, Pope Francis spoke with Zanchetta twice about his misconduct.
The news comes on the heels of the Vatican announcing earlier this month that Zanchetta was under investigation for sexual abuse and had been removed from his post. Vatican press speaker Alessandro Gissoti said at the time that "there had been no accusation of sexual abuse" against the bishop after he resigned from his diocese of Oran in 2017.
"No charges of sexual abuse had arisen at the time of appointment as advisor [to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, which oversees the various real estate and other properties of the papacy]. The accusations of sexual abuse date back to this fall," he stated.
The pope’s decision to allow Zanchetta to resign quietly, and then promote him to the No. 2 position in one of the Vatican’s most sensitive offices, has raised questions again about whether Francis turned a blind eye to misconduct of his allies and dismissed allegations against them as ideological attacks.
As the Miami Herald reports today, the Rev. Manzano – who is now a parish priest – said that he started to “raise alarm” already in 2015 about his superior who had even taken “nude selfies.” Manzano is one of three diocesan officials who at the time contacted the Vatican, first sending in some nude “selfies” of Zanchetta. In 2017, these officials made a second complaint to the Vatican “when the situation was much more serious,” not only because of the sexual abuses, but also because the “diocese was increasingly heading into the abyss.” The complaints then were about Zanchetta's “authoritarian rule” and “inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment of adult seminarians.” After each of these complaints, Manzano reports, Pope Francis met with Zanchetta in Rome.
“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 dangeous,” Manzano told AP. Through some friendly bishops, the information was given to Rome, and subsequently, as Manzano stated, Pope Francis summoned Zanchetta. According to AP, Zanchetta attempted to discredit the evidence, “saying that his cell phone had been hacked, and that there were people who were out to damage the image of the pope.”
In 2017, as Manzano explained to AP, he and his colleagues sent more detailed information to the Vatican concerning allegations of sexual misconduct. At that time, Zanchetta was “more aggressive” and visited the seminary “at all hours, drinking with the seminarians and bringing a seminarian with him whenever he visited a parish,” explains AP. When some of the seminarians started to leave the seminary, the “rector investigated and warned of harassment and inappropriate behavior,” Manzano told AP.
In mid-2017, this information had been passed on to the nunciature in Argentina who responded swiftly. The Pope then summoned Zanchetta a second time to Rome, in July of 2017. Afterward, Zanchetta resigned from his position as a bishop
Manzano said that Pope Francis was the confessor of Zanchetta. Francis treated Zanchetta as a “spiritual son,” the former general vicar added. As AP adds, this “could explain why Francis named him to Orán despite complaints about alleged abuses of power when Zanchetta was in charge of economic affairs in his home diocese of Quilmes, which is in the ecclesial province of Buenos Aires which Bergoglio headed.”
One mother of a seminarian confirmed toward AP that the allegations about sexual misconduct with seminarians on the part of Zanchetta were true. However, diocesan employees were told by church leaders not to speak to the public about these matters.
As the Vatican specialist Sandro Magister only recently pointed out, the Zanchetta case puts Pope Francis in an awkward spot ahead of the Abuse Summit on 21-14 February in Rome. This summit, says Magister, “may find Bergoglio not in the role of unspotted guide, but himself as well in the dock of those guilty of having tolerated and covered up abuse.”