Maike Hickson

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Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta. Diocese of Orán

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Vatican begins investigation of Argentine bishop promoted by Pope who’s accused of sex abuse

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March 22, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – According to the local Argentine newspaper El Tribuno, the bishop of Tucumán, Monsignor Carlos Alberto Sánchez, arrived two days ago in neighboring Oran, together with two assistants, in order to lead a Vatican investigation into the accusations of sexual abuse against the former bishop of Orán, Gustavo Zanchetta. Oran lies in the province of Salta, where also El Tribuno is published.

According to the March 21 report, Sánchez is tasked by the Vatican to take statements from the seminarians who claim that they are sexual abuse victims of Gustavo Zanchetta during his time as the bishop of Orán, thus providing a foundation for a possible “future canonical trial” of this prelate, as El Tribuno explains. Bishop  Sánchez will be working under conditions of strict confidentiality, as it is the case with such apostolic investigations.

Additionally, Bishop Sánchez will also interview three priests who had accused Zanchetta “of sexual abuse and abuse of power,” according to the newspaper report.

As one local priest, Father Juan José Manzano, told El Tribuno, already in 2015, he and two other priests had presented to the Nunciature in Buenos Aires sufficient evidence confirming the economic excesses and abuses by Zanchetta, to include photos of Zanchetta when naked and in obscene positions.

At the end of 2018, the regional newspaper El Tribuno had first reported on the complaints from the three priests against Zanchetta and, in response, that a preliminary Vatican investigation had been launched. Since then, especially AP's Nicole Winfield, but also Crux' Ines Martin have uncovered additional information on the matter. 

As the research has shown, the Vatican – and also Pope Francis – had been informed already in 2015 that Zanchetta had obscene naked “selfies” on his phone and that on his own computer homosexual pornography was found. He was also accused of financial misconduct and “economical abuse.” Later, allegations were added, according to which he had sexually abused seminarians of a seminary which he had founded in 2016. Pope Francis, according to one report, had personally met already in 2015 with Zanchetta, but at the time Zanchetta insisted that the photos were faked. The Pope met Zanchetta a second time, in 2017. Zanchetta is said to be Pope Francis' personal friend and protégé and has been made bishop by Francis soon after his papal election in 2013.

In spite of these complaints, however, Pope Francis nevertheless still appointed Zanchetta – after he resigned and suddenly left his diocese in the summer of 2017 –  to work as an assessor at the Vatican's financial institution, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) at the end of 2017. APSA is the office that manages the Vatican’s real estate and other financial holdings. As El Tribuno comments on this papal move: “What was even more surprising was the fact that Pope Francis created a high-ranking position for him [Zanchetta] in the Vatican itself.” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti had explained to Nicole Winfield that Francis appointed Zanchetta because he had “an established capacity for administrative management.”

At the time, in January of this year, the current bishop of Oran was said to be collecting evidence and testimonies that were to be forwarded to the Vatican. If found credible, these investigations could then lead to a special ad hoc commission under the Pope's authority to examine Zanchetta's alleged misconduct.

The fact that the Vatican is now sending another outside bishop to further investigate the case in Oran could be read as a sign that the initial investigation has sufficiently proven that the allegations are likely true and that the Vatican is moving closer to holding a serious canonical trial against Gustavo Zanchetta.

According to El Tribunal, the Vatican investigation that is currently taking place in Oran could take some time. Due to his own duties as bishop of Tucumán, Sánchez might have to return repeatedly to Oran.

As LifeSiteNews reported, the prosecutor’s office of the province of Salta in Argentina has now also opened investigations concerning two accusations of sex abuse against Zanchetta, and the local media suggest that several more charges are in preparation.

The gravity of Zanchetta's misconduct came out in a report written by five priests which was leaked in February, according to which Zanchetta would intrude into the privacy of his own seminarians. For example, he “would monitor them at night, passing through their rooms at late hours with a flashlight, or ask them to give him massages, or enter into their rooms at the time they were waking up and sitting on their beds, or incite them to drink alcohol, or show preferences for those who were more attractive. He was also obsessively omnipresent in the life of the seminary, creating a sensation of asphyxia – all of this is according to comments made by the seminarians themselves.”

The Zanchetta case makes it clear that the recent 21-14 February Sex Abuse Summit in Rome should have clearly addressed the problem of sexual abuse of vulnerable adults, such as seminarians and novices, something the gathering of all the presidents of the bishops' conferences in the world failed to do.

A petition launched by Pro Ecclesia and LifeSiteNews requested that the protection of vulnerable adults be placed into canon law. At the time, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, endorsed this petition in an Italian interview, pointing to the “abuse committed against seminarians” that “should not be underestimated: it is an enormous sin, a crime against the dignity of these men, but also against the parents who entrust their children to the priesthood, the bishop, the seminary.” A bishop who fails on this level “is an enormous scandal,” he added. “Can we imagine what Jesus would have done if one of the Apostles had done this with some other disciples? It is absurd alone to think about it,” the German prelate stated.

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.