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ROME, February 24, 2019 (LifeSiteNews)— There were tense moments at the close of the Vatican’s four-day summit on the sexual abuse of minors this Sunday. Following pledges from the assembled prelates to complete transparency, a journalist challenged these promises, suggesting that Pope Francis himself had recently covered up for a bishop friend who was found to have had gay porn on his phone involving young people.

The Vatican press office director cut off the response of an archbishop to remind reporters that questions on specific cases were not permitted.

In the final minutes of the summit press briefing on Sunday, Argentine journalist Inés San Martin of Crux posed a question to Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, prefacing it by saying: “Archbishop Scicluna, you said that Pope Francis wants to raise the age needed for which the Church considers porn involving minors to be a grave delict.”  

San Martin was referring to a proposal the Pope made in his concluding address on Sunday, to raise the definition of “minors” to 18 years of age when prosecuting crimes of “acquisition, possession or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors.” 

Addressing bishops in the Vatican’s Regia Hall, at the conclusion of the summit on “The Protection of Minors in the Church,” Pope Francis said:

We must ensure that young men and women, particularly seminarians and clergy, are not enslaved to addictions based on the exploitation and criminal abuse of the innocent and their pictures, and contempt for the dignity of women and of the human person. Here mention should be made of the new norms on graviora delicta approved by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, which included as a new species of crime “the acquisition, possession or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors… by whatever means or using whatever technology.” The text speaks of minors “under the age of fourteen”. We now consider that this age limit should be raised in order to expand the protection of minors and to bring out the gravity of these deeds.

San Martin continued in her question to Scicluna, saying: “We know that there’s a bishop in Argentina, Zanchetta, who had gay porn in his phone involving young people.” 

“How can we believe that this is in fact, you know, the last time we’re going to hear ‘no more coverup’ when, at the end of the day, Pope Francis covered up for someone in Argentina who had gay porn involving minors. I mean, can we actually believe that this is going to change now?,” she asked.

Caught somewhat off guard, Archbishop Scicluna responded: “Well I’ll quote what the Holy Father said this morning about the law. About the case, I’m not, I’m not, you know, I’m not authori[zed]… I mean, yeah.”

Then, in a rare move for the Vatican press office, interim director Alessandro Gisotti stepped in and interrupted Archbishop Scicluna, asking if he might say something about the case in his native Italian. 

He said: “You all are very familiar with the statement that I gave. We also said that clearly an investigation has been opened and obviously the investigation is still underway.”

“Therefore,” he added, “we can provide the results and give you a statement once it’s been concluded. Regarding this, what I communicated is where we stand on this. This is what I can say right now.”

“And as you all know, we had also asked you not to ask about specific cases,” Gisotti added as a reminder to journalists at the summit briefing on Sunday. “However, this is what I can tell you. I think that generally speaking this meeting was an extraordinary response, also in this regard.”

Having had a moment to collect his thoughts, Archbishop Scicluna told San Martin he didn’t “have information about the case” but that “if somebody’s investigating a case, they’re not covering it up.” 

“That’s my take,” he said. 

The Zanchetta Case

Gustavo Zanchetta was named bishop of the diocese of Orán by Pope Francis in 2013 and abruptly resigned in 2017 claiming he suffered from health problems that could not be treated in Argentina.  

At the time of his sudden departure, Zanchetta was facing multiple accusations of sexual abuse against seminarians, taking naked selfies, exhibiting “obscene” behavior, and mismanaging the diocese.  

The accusations—which came from two vicar generals and one episcopal vicar—were reported to the Holy See more than once and Zanchetta’s naked selfie photos were forwarded to the Vatican Embassy, yet no action was taken and Zanchetta continued to function as Bishop of Orán.  

Just five months after Zanchetta left his post in Argentina, he resurfaced in a new role at the Vatican.  

Despite having been accused of mismanaging his diocese, Pope Francis appointed Zanchetta to a specially-created position within the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), giving him the ambiguous title of “assessor” and “deputy” to the ASPA president.  

The APSA is the Curial department dealing with Vatican investments and real estate holdings.

Zanchetta’s close ties to Pope Francis date back nearly two decades, when then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was president of the Argentinean Episcopal Conference and Zanchetta served as the organization’s executive undersecretary.

According to a Jan. 20 Associated Press interview with Father Juan Jose Manzano, a former vicar general of the Diocese of Oran, Pope Francis had been Bishop Zanchetta’s confessor and treated him as a “spiritual son.” The priest said he believed there was “never any intent to hide anything.”

“There was never any intent of the Holy Father to defend him against anything,” the former vicar general told the Associate Press.

Officials at the Vatican have twice denied that Pope Francis sought to cover up Zanchetta’s sexual abuse and obscene behavior, claiming that the Pope was unaware of the accusations against his friend. 

The first of these denials came on Jan. 4, 2019. Responding to inquiries from journalists just days into his new position as the new Vatican spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti issued a statement saying that Bishop Zanchetta had resigned from the Argentinian Diocese of Oran for reasons “linked to his difficulty in managing relations with the diocesan clergy and in very tense relations with the priests of the diocese.”

Gisotti stressed that at the time of his decision to resign in 2017, Bishop Zanchetta had been accused of “authoritarianism,” but that there had been “no accusations of sexual abuse against him.”

News of the allegations regarding sexual misconduct “date back to last fall,” Gisotti said, implying that the Vatican did not know about them when Bishop Zanchetta was transferred to Rome in 2017 and appointed “councillor” to APSA.

Then, in the Jan. 20 interview with the Associated Press, Fr. Manzano alleged that Vatican received information about sexually inappropriate behavior starting in 2015, including obscene naked selfies.

The priest also said that in May or June 2017, the Vatican received reports of alleged misconduct and harassment, although they were not formal canonical complaints.

Two days later, on Jan. 22, 2019, Gisotti issued a second brief communiqué criticizing “some misleading reconstructions” about the Bishop Zanchetta case, adding that he “resolutely” repeated what he said in his Jan. 4 statement.

He said he wished to “emphasize that the case is being studied, and when this process is over, information will be forthcoming regarding the results.”

The Holy See’s subsequent appointment of Carlos Alberto Sánchez, Archbishop of Tucumán to lead Zanchetta’s investigation has raised more eyebrows, since he too is reported to be a close friend of Zanchetta.