The Vatican received information in 2015 about Bishop Zanchetta, but Pope Francis appointed him to a senior position two years later
The Vatican has still not commented on the revelations from a former vicar general that it knew Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta had taken naked photographs, performed sex acts in public and faced allegations of abusing seminarians.
Juan Jose Manzano, who was vicar general of Zanchetta’s diocese of Orán, Argentina, said colleagues reported allegations of abuse of power and sexual harassment of adult seminarians as far back as 2015. The Vatican had previously claimed that it only knew of allegations of sexual abuse a few weeks ago.
Pope Francis allowed Zanchetta to resign from Orán in August 2017 on the basis of ill health. In December the same year, the Pope appointed him to a newly created position at the Vatican, overseeing the Holy See’s real estate.
A Vatican spokesman said abuse allegations against Zanchetta had only emerged in December 2018, a year after Pope Francis appointed him to the Vatican, but Manzano said that he reported Zanchetta in 2015.
“In 2015, we just sent a ‘digital support’ with selfie photos of [Zanchetta] in obscene or out of place behaviour that seemed inappropriate and dangerous,” Manzano told AP.
“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.”
Manzano said that Pope Francis summoned Zanchetta to Rome after the 2015 report, but the bishop returned home “improved, to the point that no one even investigated how those photos got to Rome”.
However, Zanchetta soon starting becoming “more aggressive and took impulsive decisions, manipulating facts, people, influences to reach his goals.”
The bishop also started coming to the seminary and drinking with the seminarians, Manzano added.
“The rector tried to keep the students in order, being present when the bishop appeared, but the monsignor looked for ways to avoid his attention and to discredit him in front of the young guys.”
“The bad feeling was aggravated when some of them left the seminary. It was then that the rector investigated and warned of harassment and inappropriate behaviour,” he added.
In mid 2017, the Manzano and the rector told the Buenos Aires nunciature about their concerns, including alleged sexual abuses in the seminary. Soon after, Pope Francis summoned Zanchetta for a second meeting in Rome. Upon returning home in late July 2017, Zanchetta announced his resignation, citing poor health.
Manzano has defended the Pope’s handling of the case, however, saying he was the victim of Zanchetta’s “manipulation”, adding: “There was never any intent to hide anything. There was never any intent of the Holy Father to defend him against anything.”
Zanchetta has not commented on the allegations against him and the Vatican has simply said that he is not currently working while he is under investigation.