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Pope Francis greets Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta.El Tribuno

February 27, 2019 ( – Internal Church documents revealed by an Argentinean newspaper indicate that multiple members of the Catholic hierarchy, including likely Pope Francis himself, knew about credible accusations of sexual abuse against Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta years before the pontiff brought him to Rome and gave him a special position in an important Vatican agency. 

After the accusations were made public in December of last year, the Vatican repeatedly denied that the sex abuse allegations were known at the time Zanchetta mysteriously resigned his office and fled his diocese. After accepting his resignation, Pope Francis brought him to live at his residence, Casa Santa Marta, and created a new position for him as a “deputy” and “assessor” for the corruption-ridden Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See or (APSA), that oversees Vatican assets worth billions of dollars. 

The prosecutor’s office of the province of Salta has opened investigations on two accusations of sex abuse that have been filed against Zanchetta, and the local media report that several more are believed to be in preparation. 

Testimony indicates pornographic selfies of bishop were sent to Francis in 2015

The incriminating documents, which were published last week by the Argentinean newspaper El Tribuno, contain a personal testimony by the bishop’s personal secretary, as well as second signed testimony by five different priests of Zanchetta’s Diocese of Orán, which were presented to the Holy See’s representative in Argentina on April 22, 2016.

The documents, which El Tribuno reports were drawn up at the request of the Apostolic Nuncio to Argentina, Paúl Emile Tscherrig, testify that Chancellor Secretary Luis Amancio Díaz discovered pornographic selfies on the cell phone of Bishop Zanchetta on September 21, 2015, after the bishop had asked him to copy a folder of photos from the phone in order to post several of them on the diocesan Facebook page.

Amancio reports that the photos included “pornographic images of explicit homosexual sex engaged in by young people and nude selfies in which Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta is showing his private parts, which were shared with third parties through Whatsapp.” A second document states that Zanchetta is depicted in the photos in a “posture of masturbation” and that he had received the photos of homosexual sex acts from others on Whatsapp, and had sent his own photos to others.

Amancio writes that eight days later he spoke to Fr. Gabriel Acevedo, a vicar general of the diocese, about the photos, and showed them to him. Amancio adds that he felt compelled to do this “because of the content of the images, in which young people are seen and I related it to the seminary, now that it is functioning next to the curial offices and the bishop’s house. [Given] his relationship with the seminarians and the fear that something might happen to them, I couldn’t remain indifferent and look the other way.”

Fr. Acevedo states in a second document, which is signed by him and five other priests, that after consulting several other priests of the diocese, he decided to contact the Archbishop of Salta, Mario Antonio Cargnello, who is the metropolitan bishop with authority over the Diocese of Orán. Cargnello asked for the photos, and Acevedo and another priest, the seminary rector Fr. Martín Alarcón, personally took the photos in a USB stick and delivered them to Cargnello.

After reviewing the photos in the presence of the two priests, Archbishop Cargnello was moved by the “gravity” of the situation, because, in the words of the priests who signed the second document, “Zanchetta was a personal friend of the Holy Father.” Cargnello therefore decided to personally contact the Cardinal Primate of Argentina Mario Aurelio Poli, who is also a personal friend of Pope Francis and was appointed by him to succeed him as Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2013. He also asked the priests to contact the papal nunciature and ask them to contact Cardinal Poli about delicate information he would have regarding the Bishop of Orán. The priests add nothing further about this request, implying that they carried it out. 

Zanchetta’s 'asphyxiating' obsession with seminarians and porn-noise-emitting cellphone

The five priests who signed the second document add more troubling information about Zanchetta’s behavior that had been witnessed by diocesan personnel before the discovery of the pornographic selfies on his cell phone. 

“On an occasion previous to these events, when the bishop was in the administrative office of this diocese, in the presence of two laymen who were members of the curia, Manuel Alberto Guerrero and José Saavedra, audio was downloaded into the cellphone of the bishop that he carried in his pants pocket, which sounded like panting and cries from sexually explicit videos, which he sought to explain by saying, ‘they’re things that get sent to you,’” wrote the priests.

“He also had had strange attitudes towards the seminarians,” continued the priests. “For example, when there were some opportunities in which they were not in the presence of the [seminary] rector, 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 priests also expressed their concern that Zanchetta was receiving infusions of funds from the governor of the province, and simultaneously telling people to vote for the governor in elections. They also claim that the diocese had sold two valuable properties but had not consulted with the advisory board of the diocese nor had obtained approval from the Holy See, and had given the excuse that Pope Francis had advised him to keep the transactions off the books so as to “avoid the appearance that the diocese was less needy.”

Zanchetta called to Rome in 2015 to be questioned about images

According to the testimony of Amancio Díaz, the Holy See received the news of Zanchetta’s behavior quickly. Amancio had revealed the images to Acevedo September 29, and four days later, on October 3, Zanchetta received a phone call conveying an “urgent” order to present himself in Rome for reasons unspecified. Amancio says that when Zanchetta returned on October 8 he told him that he had been shown the obscene images by officials there. He denied to Amancio that they were his, claiming they were altered photos and “fakes” – presumably repeating what he had told Vatican officials. 

Although it is not stated in the documents that Zanchetta met personally with Pope Francis during this trip, the claim that he had done so was later made by one of the signers of the document, Fr. Juan José Manzano, to the Associated Press. 

The events recounted in the documents regarding the discovery of the images had taken place approximately seven months before the documents were signed, indicating that the Apostolic Nuncio, the Cardinal Primate of Argentina, and the Archbishop of Salta, and officials of the Holy See were all aware of Bishop Zanchetta’s troubling behavior as early as September of 2015. 

The testimony of Amancio and the five priests dramatically undermines the claim repeatedly made by the Vatican that it was unaware of the sex abuse accusations against Zanchetta at the time he was appointed by Pope Francis as an “assessor” to the APSA in late 2017, and that it had only learned of such accusations in October of 2018, many months later. 

The documents were signed by two Vicar Generals of the Diocese of Oran, Fr. Gabriel Acevedo and Fr. Juan José Manzano, the seminary rector, Fr. Martín Alarcón, and two other priests: Msgr. Andrés Buttu and Msgr. Diego Calvisi. 

After accusations of sexual abuse of seminarians and personal misbehavior were made public late last year, Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti claimed in a press conference on January 4 that “there was no accusation of sexual abuse at the moment of his appointment as an advisor [to the APSA].” He doubled down and repeated the claim on January 23 after the Associated Press reported that, according to local clergy, Francis had known about the accusations since 2015. On February 24, Gisotti told reporters that the accusations were still being investigated by the Vatican.