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Vatican doubles down: denies Pope knew of sexual allegations against Argentine bishop

Diane Montagna Diane Montagna Follow Diane

ROME, January 22, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican is doubling down on claims it knew nothing about Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta’s alleged sexual abuse of seminarians when Pope Francis appointed him to a key position that handles the Holy See’s real estate and financial holdings.

In a statement released today, the Vatican insisted they only heard of the allegations in autumn 2018. This, despite claims earlier this week from the bishop’s former vicar general that the Pope was informed of the allegations in 2015 and 2017, before promoting Zanchetta in Dec. 2017.

In the Jan. 22 statement, Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti, said: “In reference to the articles published recently by several news sources, as well as to some misleading reconstructions, I resolutely repeat what was stated this past January 4.”

“In addition, I emphasize that the case is being studied and when this process is over, information will be forthcoming regarding the results,” Gisotti added.

Today’s announcement comes in response to inquiries by LifeSiteNews and other agencies following an Associated Press article on Sunday reporting the Vatican knew about allegations against Zanchetta as early as 2015.

Zanchetta, 54, is accused of taking naked selfies, exhibiting “obscene” behavior and engaging in sexual misconduct with seminarians.

In a sitdown interview with the Associate Press, Zanchetta’s onetime vicar general, Fr. Juan Jose Manzano, revealed he was one of the diocesan officials who first alerted the Vatican about his bishop in 2015 and sent the digital selfies to the Vatican.

He also said he was one of the three current and former diocesan officials who made a second complaint to the Vatican’s embassy in Buenos Aires in May or June of 2017 “when the situation was much more serious, not just because there had been a question about sexual abuses, but because the diocese was increasingly heading into the abyss.”

In a follow-up email to AP, Manzano added:

“In 2015, we just sent a ‘digital support’ with selfie photos of the previous bishop in obscene or out of place behavior that seemed inappropriate and dangerous,” [...] “It was an alarm that we made to the Holy See via some friendly bishops. The nunciature didn’t intervene directly, but the Holy Father summoned Zanchetta and he justified himself saying that his cellphone had been hacked, and that there were people who were out to damage the image of the pope.”

Mazano also said Bergoglio had been Zanchetta’s confessor and treated him as a “spiritual son.” 

In August 2017, after summoning Zanchetta to Rome, the Pope accepted his resignation as bishop of the remote northern Argentine diocese of Oran.

Zanchetta subsequently spent time in Spain, where according to AP he is believed to have met with one of Francis’ spiritual guides, the Rev. German Arana, a Jesuit to whom Francis had sent another problematic bishop, the Chilean Juan Barros. On December 19, 2017, Zanchetta reemerged from the shadows as the Vatican announced Pope Francis had appointed him as the No. 2 in the administrative department that handles the Holy See’s real estate and financial holdings (called APSA). This, despite reports that Zanchetta has left the diocese of Oran in financial shambles.

Earlier this month, Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said the new bishop of Oran had opened a preliminary canonical investigation into Zanchetta for alleged sexual abuse. The Jan.4 statement, which the Vatican is now doubling down on, reads:

Bishop Zanchetta was not removed from the diocese of Oran. It was he who resigned. 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. 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.

After his resignation he spent a period of time in Spain. After the period in Spain, in consideration of his capability for management, he was appointed councilor of APSA [Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See] (a position that does not provide governmental responsibility for the dicastery). 

No charges of sexual abuse had arisen at the time of appointment as advisor. The accusations of sexual abuse date back to this fall. On the basis of these accusations and the news recently reported by the media, the bishop of Oran has already assembled some testimonies that are yet to come to the Congregation for Bishops. If the elements to proceed are confirmed, the case will be referred to the special commission of the bishops. During the investigation, Msgr. Zanchetta will abstain from work.

Last Thursday, LifeSite contacted Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, as well as the former apostolic nunio to Argentina, Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig (now apostolic nuncio to Italy), asking if their offices had received complaints of sexual or financial misconduct against Bishop Zanchetta between 2015-2017. As of this report, we have received no response. 



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