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Former bishop of Orán, Gustavo ZanchettaVideo screenshot

ORÁN, Argentina (LifeSiteNews) — A former seminarian is alleging that he received pressure and threats from Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, a close friend of Pope Francis, after he complained about abuse he received from a priest in Zanchetta’s diocese. The young man also provided testimony against Zanchetta during the March 2022 trial of the Argentinian bishop, who was given a prison sentence of four and a half years.

The case of Kevin Montes

On May 15, the trial of Father Carlos Fernando Páez will be heard in Argentina’s northwestern province of Salta. An ex-seminarian for the Diocese of Orán, using the alias Kevin Montes, has alleged that Fr. Páez manipulated and sexually abused him when Montes was a seminarian for the diocese. 

Montes, now 26, was an Orán seminarian from February 28, 2015 through 2019. He claims that Páez abused him during his time in the seminary and while on parish placement, and that Zanchetta turned a blind eye at first.

Speaking after Zanchetta was himself sentenced last spring, Montes stated that Páez began abusing him from the start of his time in seminary. However, the bishop was not receptive of Montes’ reports about the priest: “I entered the seminary in 2015, I was a seminarian, and then I had a problem with Zanchetta in August and he took me out of the seminary.” 

Montes stated that Zanchetta “persecuted me because I did not accept that he [Páez][held] my genitals and hugged me from behind. He began to tell me that I was an emotional orphan, that I had not received affection from my parents, and that is why it was difficult for me to receive this type of affection.” 

READ: Argentinian bishop previously defended by Pope found guilty of sexually abusing seminarians

Zanchetta encouraged Montes to develop a better relationship with Páez, the ex-seminarian said.

The young man, who was 18 when he entered, said that in August 2015, following his complaints against Páez, Zanchetta  removed him from the seminary. “Zanchetta had his group of chosen ones, and he persecuted me. He put pressure on me, and he took me out in August 2015.” 

“Everyone in the diocese knew what Zanchetta was like: it was rumored that Zanchetta was homosexual, but no one dared to say so. There was a lot of secrecy about it,” Montes added.

Indeed, it was in 2015, after pornographic images of “homosexual sex,” along with “nude selfies” of Zanchetta himself were found on his phone, that Zanchetta was summoned to Rome. He excused himself as having been the victim of a phone hack, an excuse which Pope Francis accepted.

Next, Montes was sent by the bishop to his home parish, the parish of the Holy Cross in Tartagal. Here he was actually to live at the parish with Páez, who had been sent there in March 2015 – just after Montes entered the seminary. 

Citing examples of Páez’s “attractive personality” at work in the parish, Montes argued the priest “managed to make me emotionally dependent on him, because after Zanchetta took me out of the seminary, Páez made me come back and always reminded me that I had come back because of him. He made me feel that my priestly vocation depended on him.”

READ: Victim accuses Pope Francis of protecting bishop found guilty of sexual misconduct

Páez reportedly began to implement controls on Montes – distancing the seminarian from his friends and checking his use of internet devices – warning that that if the protocols were not kept, then Montes “would not be able to be a priest or return to the formation house.”

First, he used seduction, showing himself to be “cool” … learned and intelligent. Then he flattered me. He let me make decisions in the parish where … decisions were made only by the priests. Finally, he took advantage of me.

Zanchetta’s restructuring of seminary norms

In 2017, Bishop Zanchetta made changes to the seminary structure that further compounded Montes’ reported struggles with Páez. Montes stated the bishop “broke the usual rules of the seminary” in removing the seminarian from his rector, formator, and spiritual directors and instead substituting Páez for those roles.

Zanchetta “sent me to live with Father Fernando [Páez] from Friday to Sunday in his parish house. That lasted about four months,” stated Montes.

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Fr. Páez. Facebook screenshot

The priest’s behavior included a consistent pattern of physical, sexual touching, stated Montes. He added that Páez did this to “minors” also. 

Montes argued that when he “denounced” a certain (un-specified) act by Páez , the priest began to criticize the young seminarian in public. “He began to treat me badly, to speak badly of me in the parish,” alleged Montes.

That’s when I clicked. I made an effort to continue being there and to prevent the children who continued to go to his house to sleep with him from having contact with him.

The timeline provided by Montes to the media prior to the start of Páez’s trial did not specify when these particular events took place. However, it is likely to have been in 2017, since Montes left the seminary for a short time that year due to his unease with both Zanchetta and Páez. He later returned to the seminary in 2018, after being assured he would not be placed with Páez.

As reported by LifeSite, Zanchetta resigned his see in August 2017, citing ill health despite the growing evidence and testimony of his homosexual activities, and was then brought to Rome by Pope Francis, to assume a newly created position in the Vatican. 

Complaint filed and threats begun

Montes resigned formally and finally from the seminary in January 2019. Discussing Páez’s abuse with the new bishop of Orán – Luis Scozzina – and stating that Páez continued to bring young boys to the house, Scozzina reportedly stated: “Well, go ahead and face it like a man, and if you have to burst it, blow it up.”

Montes filed a criminal and canonical complaint against Páez later in 2019, at which point the new bishop of Orán suspended Páez from the priesthood and expelled him from his parish of residence. Montes alleges that after the official complaint was filed, he was never received at the bishop’s house again. 

READ: Examining the timeline of Pope Francis’ alleged cover-up of bishop imprisoned for sexual abuse

Despite Zanchetta’s previous declarations supporting sexual abuse victims, Montes argued that the Zanchetta “always left us alone and tried to hide everything he could.”

Local news reports state that Montes subsequently received “threats and pressure from the alleged abuser [Páez] and the former bishop of Orán, Gustavo Zanchetta” after issuing the official complaint.

In 2019, accusations against Zanchetta caught up with him, and a Vatican canonical trial began.  The results of this procedure have never been made known. 

Then, in June 2019, Zanchetta was formally criminally charged for “aggravated sexual assault” of two seminarians in his diocese. Montes testified as a witness in the trial against Zanchetta, afterwards telling the media that he could have given evidence as a victim, but chose to focus on his case against Páez instead. 

He has consistently stated to local media that he was the victim of abuse from Zanchetta but has not specified what form of abuse that was.

READ: Pope Francis calls for ‘zero tolerance’ on sex abuse, is silent on his own permissiveness

On March 4, 2022, Zanchetta was sentenced to four and a half years in prison after the civil trial found him guilty of “aggravated continued simple sexual abuse committed by a recognized minister of religion.” (For further detailed treatment of Zanchetta, see LifeSite’s coverage.)

A just trial?

Montes is now warning that Páez’s trial might not be conducted properly. The seminarian has even asked for guarantees for his safety. The original prosecutor in the case was in fact Páez’s catechist: when she was removed she was replaced by her husband, leading Montes to doubt the impartiality of the prosecution.

With the trial taking place in Tartagal – Montes’ home town and Páez’s former parish – the former seminarian has moved house in order to escape “revictimization” from locals. 

“Tartagal is a town with a small-town mentality,” he said. Páez “has a lot of influence in Tartagal with people in power… I’m afraid that if it takes place here in Tartagal the truth will not be found and justice will not be done. The truth is that I am afraid, and I don’t feel safe with the people who took the case.”