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Police raid former offices of Argentine bishop charged with fraud, sex assault

Bishop Zanchetta (Getty)

If convicted in Argentina, the bishop could face between three and 10 years in prison

Local civil authorities on Thursday raided the chancery of the Diocese of Orán, where Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta was bishop from 2013 to 2017. Bishop Zanchetta has been charged with sexual assault, as well as fraud and mismanagement of funds.

He was charged in June with assaulting two seminarians.

Orán’s Economic Crime Unit raided offices in the chancery Nov. 7. The raid was carried out to investigate Zanchetta’s alleged fraud against the state, according to El Oranense.

In addition to accusations of mismanaging church funds donated by the faithful in diocese, public records show that Zanchetta received more than 1 million Argentine pesos from Salta Province to restore a rectory and for lectures at the seminary which never occurred.

Four months after Zanchetta’s resignation as Bishop of Orán, Pope Francis appointed him to a newly-created position in the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which oversees the Vatican’s assets and real estate holdings.

Reporting from Argentine sources suggests that the bishop was first accused of sexually inappropriate behavior in 2015.

According to a February report by Argentine newspaper The Tribune, one of the Zanchetta’s secretaries alerted authorities after accidentally finding sexually explicit images sent and received on Zanchetta’s cell phone in 2015. The complaint says that some of the images depict “young people” having sex in addition to lewd images of Zanchetta himself.

The bishop claimed his phone and computer had been hacked, and that the accusations were motivated by people who did not support Pope Francis.

Pope Francis summoned Zanchetta to Rome for five days in October 2015. The pope appeared to have accepted Zanchetta’s excuse that his cell phone had been hacked, and dismissed the allegations.

The Vatican has stated twice that they did not know about Zanchetta’s misdeeds until 2018, a claim that is disputed by Fr. Juan José Manzano, the former vicar general of the Diocese of Orán. Manzano claims that he reported Zanchetta in 2015, after the pornographic images were found on his phone. Manzano says he also reported him again in 2017.

The report also says three of Zanchetta’s vicars general and two monsignors made a formal internal complaint before the Argentinian nunciature in 2016, alleging inappropriate behavior with seminarians.

This behavior included entering their rooms at night, requesting massages from them, waking up seminarians in the morning, sitting on their beds, drinking alcohol with them, and favoring more the more “graceful” (attractive) among them.

The 2017 internal accusation, which The Tribune says alleged more explicit abuse by Zanchetta of seminarians, resulted in Zanchetta’s exit from the diocese, though Zanchetta said he was resigning for health reasons. The Vatican did not open an investigation at that time.

Manzano said part of the reason the allegations against Zanchetta may have not been taken seriously by the Vatican was because of the bishop’s close relationship with Pope Francis, who appointed him Bishop of Orán in 2013. Still, Manzano said he didn’t believe the Vatican meant to lie or hide anything about Zanchetta. He said he believed Francis and other Vatican officials had also been victims of the bishop’s “manipulation.”

The Vatican acknowledged Zanchetta was under investigation in January 2019, and suspended him from his role at APSA.

Vatican Press Office spokesman Alessandro Gisotti in January “resolutely” repeated a Vatican statement that said no sexual abuse charges had yet emerged against the bishop at the time Pope Francis appointed Zanchetta his position at the APSA. Gisotti said the charges only emerged in the fall of 2018.

When asked at a Feb. 24 press conference about Zachetta’s case, Gisotti reiterated that an investigation was ongoing.

In late May 2019, Pope Francis announced that a preliminary investigation against Zanchetta had concluded and would proceed to trial at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

If convicted by the civil court in Argentina, Zanchetta could face between three and 10 years in prison.