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Report: Vatican already knew about Argentine bishop’s sexual misconduct

Bishop Zanchetta

The bishop's vicar general said he sent evidence to the Holy See in 2015

(Rome) An AP Exclusive report published Sunday claims the Holy See received evidence of misconduct on the part of an Argentinian bishop with ties to Pope Francis years earlier than the Vatican had previously suggested. The claims tend to contradict the Vatican’s earlier statements regarding what authorities in the Holy See knew about the bishop’s behaviour, and when they knew it.

The bishop in question is Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta, who was executive undersecretary to the Argentinian bishops’ conference during the years then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was conference president. Pope Francis made Zanchetta a bishop in 2013, and appointed him to the Diocese of Orán in the far north of Argentina.

In August of 2017, Pope Francis accepted Zanchetta’s resignation from the See of Orán, after Zanchetta complained of ill health. In December of 2017, Francis named Zanchetta “Assessor” to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See — APSA — a position Francis created especially for Zanchetta within the powerful department, which oversees the Holy See’s real-estate and significant other assets.

In January of this year, The Holy See confirmed that Zanchetta had been suspended from his position in the APSA, pending investigation into various accusations of misconduct, including the sexual abuse of seminarians in his former diocese. In a statement issued on January 3, the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Alessandro Gisotti, told reporters the Holy See only learned of the sexual misconduct complaints very recently.

“At the time of his resignation [in 2017],” Gisotti said in the statement, “there had been accusations of authoritarianism against [Zanchetta], but there had been no accusation of sexual abuse against him.”

On Sunday, the Associated Press quoted the former Vicar General for the Diocese of Orán, Argentina, Fr Juan José Manzano, as saying he sent evidence of Bishop Zanchetta’s strange and untoward behaviour in 2015 and 2017.

“In 2015, we just sent a ‘digital support’ with selfie photos of the previous bishop [Zanchetta] in obscene or out of place behavior that seemed inappropriate and dangerous,” Fr Manzano told the AP. “It was an alarm that we made to the Holy See via some friendly bishops,” Manzano went on to explain. “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.”

Fr Manzano also told the AP he believes Pope Francis has handled the Zanchetta matter appropriately. “There was never any intent to hide anything. There was never any intent of the Holy Father to defend him against anything,” Fr Manzano told the AP.

Quite apart from the question of intent, the Vatican said on January 4 there had been no accusation of sexual abuse against Zanchetta when he was named Assessor to APSA in December of 2017. AP reports Manzano as maintaining that statement could be technically true, as a report of ambiguous behaviour is not a formal complaint. As of press time, the Press Office of the Holy See had not responded to repeated requests from The Catholic Herald for clarification.