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Pope Francis greets Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta.El Tribuno

February 18, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Argentinean prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation for alleged sexual abuse against a bishop and close personal friend appointed and protected by Pope Francis, according to the attorney general’s office of the province of Salta, Argentina.

The target of the investigation is Gustavo Zanchetta, who was named bishop of the diocese of Orán by Pope Francis in 2013. Zanchetta suddenly fled his diocese and resigned from his office in July 2017, claiming he had health problems that could not be treated in Argentina. Soon he was appointed by Pope Francis to a vague and undefined Vatican position, and came to live in Casa Santa Marta, where Francis himself resides.

Witnesses have since told the Associated Press and Argentinean media that at the time of his resignation, Zanchetta was under a cloud of accusations that he had sexually abused seminarians, including some who were minors. He was also accused of taking naked selfies, exhibiting “obscene” behavior, and mismanaging the diocese.

According to Argentina’s El Tribuno newspaper, a total of three priests, including two vicar generals and one episcopal vicar, had complained multiple times of “economic mismanagement, abuse of power, and sexual abuse of seminarians.”

According to sources that have spoken to the Associated Press and Argentinean news sources, these accusations were reported to the Holy See twice, and were investigated by Pope Francis in 2015. Photos of the naked selfies were reportedly sent to the Holy See’s embassy in Argentina along with testimonies regarding Zanchetta’s misdeeds. However, no actions were taken against Zanchetta, who was allowed at the time to continue as bishop of Orán.

Only five months after his sudden resignation in late July of 2017, Zanchetta was appointed by Francis to a specially-created position within the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), assigning him the ambiguous title of “assessor” and as a “deputy” second in rank after the president of the APSA in early 2018.

The APSA oversees the Holy See’s real estate assets, as well as its financial and stock portfolio, a massive task intimately associated with financial reforms of corrupt Vatican institutions that have been mired in controversy under Pope Francis. The APSA is believed possibly to have been involved in “money laundering, insider trading, and market manipulation,” according to a summary given by Reuters of a secret Vatican report seen and reported by the news agency in 2015.

Zanchetta said to be pope’s “spiritual child” by cleric who reported him to Rome

Francis’ favors to Zanchetta of making a special and prestigious Vatican position for the wayward bishop with no defined responsibilities, as well as housing him in Casa Santa Marta, seems to stem from Zanchetta’s close personal relationship to the pontiff. Their close relationship began during the 2000s when Francis, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, was president of the Argentinean Episcopal Conference, and Zanchetta was the conference’s executive undersecretary.

Fr. Juan José Manzano, who says he was one of the priests who reported the misbehavior of Zanchetta, told the Associated Press that Zanchetta was like “a spiritual child of the Holy Father.”

Vatican officials deny that Pope Francis has sought to cover up Zanchetta’s misdeeds, claiming that Francis was unaware of the sex abuse and personal misconduct accusations against Zanchetta all the way up to the time he was given the Vatican appointment in December of 2017.

Pope selects “very good friend” of Zanchetta to investigate accusations against bishop

Pope Francis has generated more controversy in the Zanchetta case by picking a bishop to investigate the accusations who is reportedly a close friend of Zanchetta: Carlos Alberto Sánchez, Archbishop of the city of Tucumán.

Multiple sources, including one that is reportedly an “ecclesiastical authority,” have told the Argentinean newspaper El Tribuno that Sánchez and Zanchetta are “very good friends.” The newspaper reports that “the clergy don’t have confidence in the one selected to do the investigation,” and “the selection of the archbishop [Sánchez] to lead the investigation did not bring calm to the ecclesiastical community, but the opposite.”

Sánchez reportedly was eager to deny his reported friendship with Zanchetta to reporters, but when he realized they were recording him, he demanded that they erase the recordings, according to El Tribuno.

“I know him [Zanchetta] like I know any of the bishops, because I went to Orán to give courses and for the seminaries,” Sánchez told El Tribuno after being questioned by the newspaper during a break at a meeting of bishops. He assured the newspaper that “there is no friendship” and that “there wouldn’t be impediments” to an objective investigation.

When he found out he was being recorded, he complained that he hadn’t been informed of the recording and demanded that it be erased. “Erase it now,” he reportedly demanded, while a security official peered out of another room.

Multiple prosecutors are investigating Zanchetta – and more accusations may be coming

Prosecutors in Salta confirmed late last week that “the accusation of a victim has been filed against the ex-bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, which is now the basis of an investigation along with accusations that the prosecutor’s office officially initiated in January of this year following the public revelation of the supposed accusations.” They added that multiple prosecutors are involved in the investigation.

“The accusation . . . was filed in the Prosecutor’s Office of Orán by a person who belongs to the congregation that was led by the ex-bishop,” the Orán prosecutors reported on their site. “Various steps were taken to clarify the accusation and the possibility that new accusations may be added regarding the ex-bishop. The Prosecutor’s Office states that these measures are being undertaken with absolute care so as to guarantee the success of the investigation.”