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(LifeSiteNews) — One of the two recognized victims of Bishop Emeritus Gustavo Zanchetta of Orán, in the Argentinian province of Salta, spoke out to a local news source on July 14, three days after his condemned abuser obtained an adjusted sentence allowing him to avoid spending time in prison.
The victim, known as “M.C.,” spoke with his back to the camera to Silvia Noviasky of El Tribuno, telling her he could not sleep and had feelings of “anxiety” because strings are being pulled so that Zanchetta can have “good times” despite having been found guilty of “constant sexual misconduct” regarding two seminarians.
M.C. explicitly accused Pope Francis of supporting Bishop Zanchetta, with whom he has friendly relations, even after a civil court found the former bishop of Orán guilty of the abuse in March.
He pointed an accusing finger to the Pope, saying Zanchetta is being protected “because there is a lot of accommodation and cronyism and it comes from Pope Francis, who at present says some things in his homily and does others, when all the time, years ago, he knew everything that was happening, there was evidence, there were photos that were presented to him of Zanchetta.”
He said “friendships” in elevated circles and financial backing were in the abuser’s favor, while the latter’s victims were offered no help of any kind, be it moral or financial. He accused the Church hierarchy of protecting Zanchetta, noting that other clerics in the same diocese who received penal sentences for sex abuse were immediately suspended. He added that the Church is paying for Zanchetta’s defense, his stays in private clinics and his current accommodation in a monastery.
Allegations of misconduct against Zanchetta, either sexual or otherwise, have been ongoing since 2011. Nude “selfies” of Zanchetta as well as homosexual pornographic images were found on his cellphone in 2015, but he explained these away to Pope Francis, who was sympathetic to the bishop’s denials and sent him back to his diocese before tailor-making a post for him in 2018 as “assessor” of Vatican finances after senior priests went on to file complaints against Zanchetta, who resigned because of “ill health,” underwent therapy and then went on to work in Rome.
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A canonical investigation was launched in 2019. but the results of the trial have remained secret, with the Vatican consistently refusing to communicate information about the process. According to M.C., who was among those who filed canonical complaints against Zanchetta, the Vatican is refusing to tell him whether the proceedings have stopped or are still ongoing. “The only words they use are that ‘this is covered by pontifical secret,’” M.C. said.
Meanwhile, the canonical lawyer appointed to defend Zanchetta, Javier Belda Iniesta, was in Orán “staying in a 5-star hotel” to organize the bishop’s appeal, paid for by the Church. Iniesta has now been moved to other duties that involve investigating clerics who testified in favor of the victims. Iniesta has told the media that his new work has nothing to do with the Zanchetta file, but M.C. alleged that “a lot of money is being handed out,” “they’re going after those who helped us,” he said.
Zanchetta is at this point still a bishop in good standing, despite having been given a prison sentence of four years and six months, of which he has served a week at most. At first, he was sent to a monastery before being transferred to jail for a week and then to a private clinic. He asked for and obtained permission to serve his sentence under “domiciliary arrest.” This was granted July 11 on humanitarian grounds, according to the bishop’s lawyer, because of Zanchetta’s state of health. The bishop has been treated for high blood pressure and aneurisms of the renal aorta.
Zanchetta has been assigned to a feminine monastery that welcomes children and vulnerable adults. It was founded by Father Diego Calvizzi, who before his death in 2018 had joined the original four priests who testified against Zanchetta and in support of his alleged victims, including the two who were recognized by the civil courts earlier this year. This added insult to injury, according to M.C., who told El Tribuno:
“Yes, he supported the whole canonical process, not only with his testimony, but also economically, because it was necessary to go to Buenos Aires, it was necessary to travel, Father Diego offered that support. That is why it seems to me so paradoxical and so low that the place of such an important figure of Oran, as Diego Calvisi, is given to a scoundrel like Zanchetta.”
He told the journalist that the bishop’s benefiting from house arrest is “emotionally destabilizing” for the victims:
“It seems that it never will end. It seems that there is no point at which one says, well, the Church recognized that he was condemned, that he should go to prison, and the Church takes responsibility for its mistake. But it is hard to recognize that a bishop was judged and condemned and that he is making the best of it. It’s something that never seems to come to an end, it comes back to drag you down, to take you away, it comes back to give you headaches and anxiety.”
M.C. said the fact that Zanchetta, a “manipulator type” according to psychological reports, is now in an institution where minors, women and vulnerable people live shows that the “judiciary is not paying attention,” and that under the circumstances he now as a victim is no longer “tranquillized” by his aggressor’s conviction, but instead has feelings of “powerlessness, uneasiness and discomfort.” He noted that the monastery where Zanchetta is supposed to stay was originally built to house elderly priests, not prisoners.
The other recognized victim, known as G.G., told Pagina 12 that Zanchetta’s house arrest “is unjust, but speaks of the power he has.” He also claimed that he and the other victim were not able to challenge the bishop emeritus’ demands because they were not told of this possibility and, in any case, had no money to pay private lawyers in the case.
Tempers are now running high in Argentina, with left-wing activists and secularist and feminist organizations pouncing on the proven or alleged victims of Zanchetta to blacken the reputation of the Catholic Church as an institution. Many are slamming the new bishop of Orán, Luis Scozzina, for having refused to listen to the two victims identified by the civil courts or to help them, and for not having wanted to reach out to groups of demonstrators who are campaigning to have talks with him.
“They are covering up” for Zanchetta, according to G.G. “In the eyes of the Church, he shouldn’t be shut up in a jail, especially because he is a bishop. I don’t agree with the way the ecclesiastical authorities are handling this. I don’t know whether I should still believe in the Church, because a person, Zanchetta, hurt me and let me see the other part of the Church.”
Former seminarian M.C. told El Tribunal that he has “moved totally away” from the Church: “I no longer walk into a church, I don’t pray,” he said, making clear that the breakup is complete. He spoke of more “youths” who had been abused than the two identified by the civil court, adding that most of the seminarians in Orán involved in testifying against Zanchetta had left, with only three staying on in the hope of being ordained. He said they had completed their studies but were being blocked because they had supported Zanchetta’s victims by testifying in their favor.
Politics are being mixed into the case as activists from the Workers’ Party in Salto weigh in, accusing Zanchetta of having played against the workers’ cause in labor conflicts in the province while receiving workers and employers in joint meetings at the diocese; activist Gabriela Cerrano accused him of being part of the “Salto oligarchy.”
Be that as it may, even if it is being used to political and secularist ends in Argentina, this whole business has clearly been messed up by a lack of transparency on the part of the Church hierarchy. Pope Francis, undisputed by top Vatican officials, has gone out of his way to protect Zanchetta and to avoid acting rigorously in the face of misconduct that seems difficult to deny. Canonical proceedings have been wreathed in mystery, which would appear unnecessary if accusations against the former bishop of Orán were indeed wildly off the mark. Testimony is still coming in regarding misconduct, and, in other cases, lack of understanding and assistance for complainants appear still to be the rule in Salto, if M.C. is to be believed.
Tragically, the handling of the Zanchetta file has already led young men who were responding to a perceived priestly calling to lose faith in the Church and in God. And this is surely the darkest side of the confusion that reigns, not only in Orán, Salto, Argentina, but in so many parts of the Catholic world.