Holy See knew of Argentine Bp. Gustavo Zanchetta's abuse in 2015
VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis has been caught covering for an Argentine prelate credibly accused of homosexual assault.
In a Sunday exclusive, the Associated Press (AP) revealed the Vatican knew as early as 2015 that former Oran Bp. Gustavo Zanchetta, a Francis protégé, sexually abused seminarians — years earlier than Vatican officials originally claimed.
Father Juan José Manzano, Zanchetta's former vicar general, told the AP that he reported Zanchetta to the Vatican in 2015 and 2017, notifying authorities the one-time bishop of Oran had taken naked selfies and homosexually abused seminarians in his diocese.
Manzano's testimony discredits recent statements by the Holy See that Francis learned of the allegations against Zanchetta only in the past few months.
Zanchetta and Francis have a long-standing relationship. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cdl. Jorge Bergoglio gave Zanchetta a top-ranking position in the Argentine Bishops' Conference; and shortly after he assumed the papacy in March 2013, Francis named Zanchetta bishop of Oran — one of his first episcopal appointments as pope.
But according to priests in his diocese, before long, Zanchetta began engaging in "obscene" behavior, including sexually assaulting seminarians.
By 2017, rumors were swirling in the Argentine press that the Oran prelate had paid off multiple whistleblowers who reported him to the papal nuncio in Argentina for sex abuse. Press reports suggested Zanchetta misappropriated diocesan funds, using the money to buy the silence of several young seminarians he allegedly subjected to "masturbation, groping and psychological pressure."
In July 2017 — two years after Fr. Manzano first warned the Vatican about the bishop's conduct — Zanchetta resigned abruptly as head of the diocese of Oran.
He then disappeared for months before resurfacing in Rome in December 2017 as an "assessor" for the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), the Vatican's financial office, which oversees millions of dollars in Church real estate.
It has since emerged that the position was specially created for Zanchetta by Pope Francis himself.
Earlier this month, after news spread beyond Argentina that former seminarians were accusing him of sexual assault, Zanchetta stepped aside from his Vatican post.
A spokesman for the Holy See was quick to downplay the pontiff's earlier intervention on behalf of his old friend, insisting Francis knew nothing about the abuse allegations at the time he brought Zanchetta to Rome in late 2017.
"At the time of his resignation [in 2017]," said Alessandro Gisotti, director of the Press Office of the Holy See, "there had been accusations of authoritarianism against [Zanchetta], but there had been no accusation of sexual abuse against him."
Father Manzano's testimony has exposed that claim as false.
"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," Manzano told the AP. "It was an alarm that we made to the Holy See via some friendly bishops. "
"The nunciature didn't intervene directly," he continued, "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."
After the meeting in Rome, Francis allowed Zanchetta to continue as bishop of Oran for another two years.
For many faithful Catholics, Fr. Manzano's account has reaffirmed that the hierarchy — including those at the highest levels of the Vatican — can't be trusted to police themselves on clerical sex abuse, or to expel the homosexual current in the Church. Coming one month before the February 21–24 bishops' "sex abuse synod" in Rome, they say, Manzano's revelations are another confirmation that Francis' "zero tolerance" pledge is merely a slogan, not a policy.