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Argentine bishop and friend of Pope Francis charged with sex abuse of seminarians

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, June 10, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta, one of Pope Francis’ first episcopal appointments, has been formally charged with alleged sexual abuse of two seminarians in the Diocese of Oran in northern Argentina.

According to the prosecutor’s office in Oran, Zanchetta was charged with “aggravated continuous sexual abuse committed by a minister of a religious organization.” He has been forbidden to have contact with the seminarians in question or their family members.

In 2015, Zanchetta was accused of engaging in “strange behavior” when a diocesan official discovered pornographic images on the archbishop’s cellphone. Pornographic images of men were found, allegedly sent to unknown parties, as well as Zanchetta’s nude selfies. Reportedly, there were no images of children found.

Vatican authorities have twice stated that they had no knowledge of Zanchetta’s alleged crimes until 2018. However, Fr. Juan José Manzano (the former vicar general of Oran) disagrees, saying he reported the pornographic images in 2015 and again in 2017.

A complaint was raised against Zanchetta in 2016, accusing the archbishop of “problematic behavior” with seminarians. He is alleged to have entered their bedrooms at night and requested massages. Also, he is alleged to have offered alcohol to the seminarians. Internal church documents suggest that Pope Francis knew of accusations against Zanchetta before transferring him to Rome.

In 2017, Zanchetta unexpectedly resigned his see without explanation. However, Pope Francis, a fellow Argentine, gave him a job created for him at the Vatican’s Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA). The latter oversees the financial holdings of the Vatican and serves as a central bank.

Prosecutor Monica Viazzi’s office said Zanchetta was silent during his court appearance on Thursday. Zanchetta’s passport has been confiscated and he is prohibited from leaving Argentina. Also, he has been ordered to obtain a permanent address in the country and attend all future hearings in his case.

On June 12, Zanchetta will be subjected to psychological evaluation as part of the official investigation. He will be jailed if he violates any of these demands. If convicted, Zanchetta could face two or three years in prison.

Oran is a city of about 82,000 in the province of Salta, near Argentina’s border with Bolivia.

Pope Francis recently revealed to a Mexican journalist that Zanchetta is facing a simultaneous canonical trial at the Vatican. “Before I asked for his resignation, there was an accusation, and I immediately made him come over with the person who accused him and explain it,” Pope Francis told Valentina Alazraki.

Zanchetta claimed that his cellphone had been hacked, the Pope said.

“Evidently he had, some say,” Pope Francis said, “despotic treatment of others – he was bossy.”

The Pope said he understood that Zanchetta was “not completely clear in dealing with finances” that have yet to be proved. “But certainly, the clergy didn’t feel well treated by him,” the Pope said. “They complained until they made an allegation as a body to” the Vatican’s embassy in Argentina.

After hearing from the papal diplomatic representative in Argentina that there were “serious” allegations of mistreatment of seminarians in addition to an “abuse of power,” the Pope sent Zanchetta for psychological treatment in Spain while asking for his resignation from his see. As for any allegations of misusing Church money, the Pope denied that there was any substantial evidence.

While Zanchetta was not orderly in handling money, the Pope said, Zanchetta had a “good vision.” Having decided that Zanchetta should be tried in a canonical court, the Pope turned the case over to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Should Zanchetta be found guilty of the abuse of minors or vulnerable adults, he may face laicization.

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