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VATICAN CITY, June 16, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― An Argentine bishop under investigation for the alleged sexual abuse of seminarians has returned to his job at the Vatican.
Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta, 56, has once again taken up his position with the Vatican’s ASPA, the Office of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See. According to Matteo Bruno of the Vatican Press Office, Zanchetta’s return will not interfere with the ongoing probe into his allegedly criminal behavior. Bruni told Catholic News Agency (CNA) that the bishop was working while “remaining available to the Argentinian judicial authorities.”
Zachetta was suspended from his job as “assessor,” the third highest rank in Patrimony office, in January 2019 after the Vatican revealed that sexual abuse accusations had been laid against him. The ASPA position had been created for Zanchetta personally by Pope Francis in 2017 after Zanchetta resigned from his ministry as Bishop of Oran in Northern Argentina.
Zanchetta was dogged by rumours of his sexual misconduct, including sexual assaults upon two seminarians in Argentina. In June 2019, Zanchetta was charged by authorities in Oran with “aggravated continued sexual abuse committed by a minister of a religious organization.” He was forbidden to have contact with the two seminarians in the case or their family members. The bishop has also been charged with fraud and mismanagement of funds.
Bishop Zanchetta has denied the allegations.
According to the New York Times, the Vatican’s conclusions about the case have been hampered by the coronavirus outbreak this year. Zanchetta’s lawyer, Belda, told the Associated Press (AP) that the investigation actually wound down in December and that he and his client are “confident about the outcome of the procedures” in both the civil and ecclesial courts.
“We are fully convinced that this long judicial process will serve to rehabilitate the name of Monsignor Zanchetta and reinforce justice, because while it’s right to protect victims it’s also right to absolve those who have been falsely accused,” Belda said.
Zanchetta was one of Pope Francis’ first episcopal appointees, having been named to his See by his countryman on July 23, 2013. He was consecrated a bishop that August.
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, allegedly sent to unknown parties, were found there, as were nude selfies of Zanchetta. Former vicar general Father Juan José Manzano told AP in January 2019 that he reported Zanchetta to authorities in 2015 and again in 2017.
In 2016 a complaint was raised against Zanchetta, accusing the bishop of “problematic behavior” with seminarians. He is alleged to have entered their bedrooms at night and requested massages. He is also alleged to have offered alcohol to the seminarians. In July 2016 Zanchetta temporarily fled his diocese, explaining in a letter that he left for health reasons.
In July 2017 the bishop tendered his resignation to Pope Francis in Rome, but instead of celebrating the customary farewell Mass in Oran, he took refuge in Corrientes, a town several hundred miles away. There he remained the guest of its bishop until the pontiff accepted his resignation three days later. Zanchetta then spent some time in Spain before taking up his new role with the ASPA.
Internal church documents suggest that Pope Francis knew of accusations against Zanchetta before transferring him to Rome. However, the Vatican has denied this. In January 2019, when the Vatican first announced that Zanchetta was under investigation for sexual abuse, the interim director of the Vatican Press Office, Alessandro Gissoti, said that Zachetta’s reasons for resigning as Bishop of Oran were linked to his failures as an administrator.
“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,” Gissoti said.
“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.”
British Catholic journalist Damian Thompson wrote last August that the Pope’s patronage of Zanchetta was a “timebomb” that threatened his moral authority.
“When he became Pope he lost no time in making his friend Gustavo Zanchetta a bishop in Argentina,” Thompson wrote for the Spectator.
“Bad move. Within a short time Zanchetta was facing allegations of sexual and financial impropriety. The Pope was informed of these allegations (and if you Google them you’ll discover that they were pretty lurid),” he continued.
“His response? He plucked Zanchetta out of his diocese and created a plum job for him in Rome … managing finances. Another bad move, now that Zanchetta … is facing charges of molesting seminarians and other allegations of misusing money.”