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Bishop under investigation for sexual misconduct is on spiritual retreat with Pope Francis

Pope Francis greets Bishop Zanchetta in June 2015 (Diocese of OrĂ¡n)

Bishop Zanchetta joins the Pope and senior Vatican officials on the retreat despite being under investigation for sexual and financial wrongdoing

The Catholic Herald has learned that a bishop currently under investigation for sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement, including claims he had naked selfies and gay pornography on his phone, is on retreat with Pope Francis and other senior members of the Roman Curia.

The bishop is Gustavo Zanchetta, emeritus of Orán, Argentina, and currently Assessor to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA). The bishop confirmed by phone to the Herald that he was on retreat.

The week-long Lenten retreat at the Casa del Divin Maestro began Sunday afternoon.

A January 4 statement from the Press Office of the Holy See said that Bishop Zanchetta would “abstain himself from work” during the investigation. “If the elements to proceed are confirmed,” the January 4 statement said, “the case will be referred to the special commission for the bishops.”

The Press Office of the Holy See had not responded by press time to requests from The Catholic Herald for information regarding Bishop Zanchetta’s current status.

Pope Francis allowed Zanchetta to resign from Óran in August 2017. The Press Office of the Holy See gave no reason for Zanchetta’s resignation, but the bishop cited ill health. In December of 2017, Pope Francis appointed Zanchetta to a position in the APSA specially created for him.

Reports based on interviews and documentation show Pope Francis had seen evidence of Bishop Zanchetta’s ambiguous behaviour — including photographic evidence and complaints he sexually harassed seminarians — as early as 2015.

When news reports of the investigation into Bishop Zanchetta’s conduct emerged in early January, the Press Office of the Holy See issued a statement saying Zanchetta had resigned his see because he could not govern the clergy, and that the accusations of sexual misconduct were not lodged until the Fall of 2018. “At the time of his resignation [in 2017],” Press Office Director Alessandro Gisotti said in the statement, “there had been accusations of authoritarianism against [Zanchetta], but there had been no accusation of sexual abuse against him.”

Later, it emerged that Orán’s former Vicar General, Fr Juan José Manzano, sent evidence of Bishop Zanchetta’s behaviour to the Vatican in 2015 and 2017.

Fr Manzano told the Associated Press, “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 explained, “It was an alarm that we made to the Holy See via some friendly bishops.”

“The nunciature didn’t intervene directly,” Fr Manzano told the AP, 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.”

Argentina’s El Tribuno de Salta newspaper later published documents showing the first complaint — in 2015 — reported that Zanchetta had on his cell phone naked images of himself masturbating, and gay porn involving young people engaged in homosexual sexual activity.

The documents published by El Tribuno also contain statements from the rector of Oran’s seminary, to the effect that he was so concerned over Bishop Zanchetta’s behaviour that he informed the nunciature in 2016 that his first-year students — who had classes in the bishop’s residence — required “urgent measures” for their protection.

That 2016 complaint lists “strange behaviours” including, “watching [seminarians] at night, walking through their rooms late at night with a flashlight, or asking for massages, or going into their rooms and sitting on their beds, or encouraging them to drink alcoholic beverages, or [showing] certain preferences for some more handsome (Sp. Agraciados, literally “graceful”) [seminarians].”