ORAN, Argentina, August 28, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican’s third-highest ranking prelate claimed in a letter to an Argentine judge that a bishop accused of sexual abuse against seminarians in Argentina has a job in Rome, even though he’s been suspended since January, Crux reported Wednesday.
Venezuelan Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the Substitute for the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, signed a June 3 letter stating Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta is “employed by the Vatican” and must return to Rome “to continue his daily work.”
Zanchetta was formally charged in June with “aggravated continuous sexual abuse” against two seminarians in 2016 and 2017 while he was bishop of Oran diocese in northern Argentina.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Peña Parra’s letter, also signed by a Vatican Secretariat of State lawyer Vincenzo Mauriello, stated Zanchetta works at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) and “lives in the Santa Marta residence,” the hotel in the Vatican where Pope Francis resides, reported Crux’s Rome bureau chief, Inés San Martín.
Judge Claudio Parisi accepted the document without question and used it, as well as Zanchetta’s “collaboration” with authorities, to justify lifting travel restrictions against Zanchetta in June, despite the objections of the public prosecutor, Crux reported.
There is no extradition agreement between Argentina and the Vatican City State.
Peña Parra was appointed by Pope Francis as Substitute in October 2018, a key position in which he oversees the daily workflow of the Vatican and is reportedly the only person permitted to walk in on the pope unannounced.
However, Peña Parra has been under scrutiny recently after LifeSiteNews reported on Archbishop Maria Carlo Viganò’s allegations on Vatican cover-ups of sexual abuse.
According to Viganò, the Holy See has a “terrifying dossier” on Peña Parra that dates back to the 1980s and includes reports of Peña Parra’s alleged homosexual predation of seminarians and sexual abuse of minor seminarians. The Vatican has never conducted an “open and thorough investigation” of these allegations, Viganò said.
The Venezuelan bishops’ conference defended Peña Parra in a statement last week that called Viganò’s allegations “a series of calumnious accusations,” Crux reported.
Meanwhile, when Parisi lifted travel restrictions against him in June, Zanchetta flew to Rome, where he stayed for 45 days. He returned to Oran and met with Parisi in his chambers August 8, Crux reported.
The meeting lasted about 10 minutes and Zanchetta left “with a smile on his face” and refused to answer any questions from the media.
Parisi ruled last week that Zanchetta could have his passport, thus allowing him to travel to Rome, Crux reported on August 28.
The Vatican did not confirm with Crux if Zanchetta has returned to the Vatican, where he faces a trial by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Oran’s prosecutor, María Soledad Filtrín, has requested a public trial against the bishop.
Filtrín contends Zanchetta acted “with malicious intent” to have sexual involvement with the seminarians, “initiating the deployment of acts and maneuvers of seduction, manipulation and preeminence,” Crux reported.
She asserts that the fact Zanchetta was their superior inspired “reverential fear” in the victims “through inappropriate touching with a clear sexual significance, breaking the will of [the men] fearful of losing their status as seminarians and ending their vocation to religious service.”
Filtrín said some 20 former seminarians have testified in the case.
She told Crux August 8, the day of Zanchetta’s appearance before Parisi, that the bishop has to be formally informed of a request for trial.
He then has six days to appeal, and if the appeal is overturned, the case will proceed to trial.
Pope Francis appointed Zanchetta, a friend of his, as bishop of Oran in 2013. After Zanchetta resigned from that position in 2017 amid allegations of sexual and financial misconduct, the pope created a position for him at APSA.
Complaints against Zanchetta in 2016 accused the archbishop of “problematic behavior” with seminarians, alleging he entered their bedrooms at night and requested massages, and also offered seminarians alcohol.
Zanchetta was also accused of mismanaging church funds, Crux reported.
He had been accused in 2015 of engaging in “strange behavior” after a diocesan official discovered pornographic images of men, allegedly sent to unknown parties, as well as Zanchetta’s nude selfies, on the bishop’s cellphone. Reportedly, there were no images of children found.
Pope Francis told Noticieros Televisa’s Vatican reporter Valentina Alazrak in May he knew about allegations against Zanchetta but chose not to remove him immediately, believing the bishop’s claim his phone had been hacked, according to the Catholic Herald.
He said he created a position for Zanchetta at APSA, which oversees the financial holdings of the Vatican and serves as a central bank, because of his talents as an administrator, it reported.
The pope also told Alazrak Zanchetta had been investigated at his request, and is currently facing trial, Crux reported.
Fr. Juan José Manzano, the former general vicar of Zanchetta in Argentina, told the Associated Press in January that in 2015 and in 2017, Pope Francis spoke with Zanchetta twice about his misconduct.