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Zanchetta granted permission to return to Vatican

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

The bishop is facing trial in Argentina for allegedly abusing two seminarians

A judge in Argentina has granted a high-ranking Vatican official facing trial for criminal sexual misconduct to leave the country. Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, currently Assessor to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See — APSA —is charged with abusing two seminarians while he was bishop of Oran diocese in northern Argentina. 

Pope Francis appointed Zanchetta to the See of Oran in 2013, allowed him to resign quietly in 2017 after it emerged that the prelate had practiced suspicious management of diocesan assets and engaged in morally ambiguous behaviour. Francis created a special position for Zanchetta inside the APSA, which oversees the Vatican’s real estate and significant financial holdings.

El Tribuno de Salta reported on Friday of last week that judge Claudio Alejandro Parisi ruled Zanchetta — who denies the charges — be allowed to leave Argentina and return to the Vatican, on condition he present himself in court in Argentina at 10am on August 8th. According to El Tribuno, lead prosecutor Soledad Filtrín opposed the request, citing the importance of the stage at which her investigation has reached. Filtrín noted that the prosecution is waiting for certain evidence that “could demand [Zanchetta’s] presence,” including the results of psychological and psychiatric testing, as well as “probative measures” the defence requested.

“It would be possible,” El Tribuno reports Filtrín as arguing, “that the subsequent procedural stages would be truncated with the lifting of the imposed measures of coercion, especially considering that there is no extradition agreement with the Holy See.”

Judge Parisi conceded that a repeal of travel restrictions “would affect the ends of the criminal procedure” and agreed with Filtrín that “the requirements are not met” for a grant of full liberty to the accused. The judge did, however, grant Bishop Zanchetta permission for special “work-related” travel. Exactly what “work” Zanchetta might have to do was unclear, as he is currently suspended from his position in the APSA, pending the results of a separate canonical investigation. 

The Press Office of the Holy See had not returned requests from the Catholic Herald for further information by press time.

This is not the first time Bishop Zanchetta has received accommodation that raised eyebrows. In March of this year, The Catholic Herald reported that Zanchetta attended a week-long Lenten retreat with Pope Francis and other senior members of the Roman Curia, even though he was already suspended pending investigation for sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement.

In an interview with Noticieros Televisa that aired in late May, Pope Francis admitted he knew Bishop Zanchetta was accused of sexual impropriety — backed by evidence including nude selfies and gay pornography diocesan officials had found on the bishop’s phone — but decided not to remove him immediately. Pope Francis chose rather to believe the bishop’s story. In short, Zanchetta claimed he had been hacked:

PF: There had been an accusation, and, before asking him to resign, I immediately brought him here with the person who accused him. [This was] an accusation [involving Zanchetta’s] telephone.

NT: Pictures…

PF: Yes, but in the end he defended himself by saying that they had hacked him, and he defended himself well. Then, in the face of evidence and a good defense, doubt remains. But, in dubio pro reo [when in doubt, decide in favor of the guilty], so I backed off [Sp. volvé, literally, “I turned around”]. (Translation from the Catholic World Report)

In the interview, Pope Francis also explained that he created the position for Bishop Zanchetta in the APSA, not to hide him or protect him, but because the bishop’s talents as an administrator were too precious to waste. Despite Zanchetta’s apparently fragile psychological state — Pope Francis ordered him to undergo a period of therapy in Spain — Pope Francis brought Zanchetta to Rome. “Economically [Zanchetta] was messy,” Francis told Noticieros Televisa, “but he did not manage poorly the things he did manage. He was disorderly, but the vision is good.” 

Pope Francis and Bishop Zanchetta worked closely together for several years in Argentina, when then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was president of the bishops’ conference and Zanchetta was executive undersecretary. Zanchetta was one of Francis’s first episcopal appointments. Francis made Zanchetta a bishop and named him to Oran in 2013.