Argentine bishop promoted by Pope Francis at Vatican accused of abusing seminarians
ROME, January 4, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – An Argentine bishop, who suddenly resigned from his diocese in 2017 citing health reasons only to be appointed to a top Vatican administrative position by Pope Francis, is now under investigation for sexual abuse, the Vatican said in a statement today.
Alessandro Gissoti, interim director of the Vatican Press Office, said today that accusations against Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta emerged over recent months, about a year after Pope Francis created a position for him as “assessor” of the Holy See’s financial administration office.
Bishop Zanchetta resigned from his diocese of Oran in northwest Argentina in 2017, stating that “a health issue prevents me from carrying out the pastoral mission that was entrusted to me.” He added that he wished to relinquish his post as “soon as possible” so as to receive treatment elsewhere. “Please forgive me for having failed or deceived you,” Zanchetta wrote.
After his resignation, Zanchetta spent some time in Spain before being named as an advisor to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, which oversees the various real estate and other properties of the papacy. According to a papal spokesman, Zanchetta was appointed to the administrative position because of his professional abilities. During the investigation, Zanchetta will take a leave of absence from his work at the Vatican.
According to Gissoti, at the time of Zanchetta’s resignation, there had been accusations laid against him of authoritarianism and strained relations with members of the clergy. However, no accusations of sexual misdeeds emerged at that time. Bishop Luis Antonio Scozzina, who currently presides over Zanchetta’s former diocese, has several testimonies about Zanchetta that must still be reviewed.
According to El Tribuno, the newspaper of Salta, a province in northern Argentina, three seminarians accused Zanchetta of abuse and later left the seminary. Ten other seminarians were intimidated to remain silent about the abuse they had witnessed, said the report.
According to media reports, some of Zanchetta’s accusers were subjected to his reprisals and were reassigned. “Knowing the gravity of all types of abuse, the bishop is available to anyone who would like to present a complaint to begin the corresponding procedure for canonical justice, while recalling the right of all victims of abuse to seek ordinary justice [through civil authorities]," said a statement from the current bishop of Oran, an impoverished province that borders neighboring Bolivia.
The alleged abuse, according to testimony provided to the papal nunciature in Buenos Aires, occurred at parties organized by Zanchetta where he offered alcohol to his alleged victims. Reportedly, the seminarians were minors at the time. Zanchetta founded a seminary in Oran where six seminarians were admitted. That seminary is due to be closed.
Zanchetta was under a cloud of accusations even before being named bishop of Oran. According to El Tribuno, Zanchetta was accused of abuse of power and financial misdeeds during his time as bishop of Quilmes, a city near Buenos Aires. A number of priests and laity expressed opposition at that time to his nomination to the Oran diocese. It was Pope Francis himself, a fellow Argentine, who elevated Zanchetta to the post at Oran. Zanchetta was one of the first bishops named by the pope, a fellow Argentine.
Zanchetta hastily left behind his flock in Oran without even a customary farewell Mass on July 29, 2017, after returning from the Vatican where he had offered his resignation to Pope Francis. He departed to Corrientes, several hundred miles away, and was the guest of the archbishop there until the pope accepted the resignation three days later.
Statement by Alessandro Gissoti, interim director of the Vatican Press Office
Bishop Zanchetta was not removed from the diocese of Oran. It was he who resigned. The reason for his resignation is linked to his difficulty in managing relations with the diocesan clergy and very tense relations with the priests of the diocese. At the time of his resignation there had been accusations of authoritarianism against him, but there had been no accusation of sexual abuse. The problem that emerged then was linked to his inability to govern the clergy.
After his resignation he spent a period of time in Spain. After the period in Spain, in consideration of his capability for management, he was appointed councilor of APSA [Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See] (a position that does not provide governmental responsibility for the dicastery).
No charges of sexual abuse had arisen at the time of appointment as advisor. The accusations of sexual abuse date back to this fall. On the basis of these accusations and the news recently reported by the media, the bishop of Oran has already assembled some testimonies that are yet to come to the Congregation for Bishops. If the elements to proceed are confirmed, the case will be referred to the special commission of the bishops. During the investigation, Msgr. Zanchetta will abstain from work.
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