AP NEWS

Vatican advances probe of Argentine bishop close to Pope

February 7, 2019
Pope Francis delivers his message during a meeting with some of the staff members of Regina Coeli prison at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The Vatican is proceeding with an investigation into an Argentine bishop close to Pope Francis who has been accused of improper behavior with seminarians and sexual abuse.

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, the Argentine Diocese of Oran said Feb. 5 that the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops had entrusted Tucuman Archbishop Carlos Alberto Sanchez with the next phase of the investigation regarding accusations against Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta.

The development is significant because it signals that a preliminary investigation conducted by the Oran diocese and sent to the Vatican was deemed credible enough to warrant further investigation by an outside party.

The Associated Press reported last month that the Vatican received indications of inappropriate behavior by Zanchetta in 2015 and again in 2017, with reports from his former vicars and the seminary rector.

Zanchetta resigned abruptly on Aug. 1, 2017 but by December had been named to the No. 2 position in the Vatican’s financial management office, APSA.The Vatican has insisted that there were no accusations of sexual abuse against Zanchetta when he was promoted to the job.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti repeated in late January that the Vatican received the first accusations of alleged sexual abuse by Zanchetta a few months ago.

Zanchetta’s former deputy, the Rev. Juan Jose Manzano, had previously told the AP that he had sent the Vatican information in 2015 and 2017 of alleged inappropriate sexual behavior by Zanchetta that included taking naked selfies and reports that he engaged in harassment and misconduct with adult seminarians.

Manzano told the AP those reports didn’t constitute formal canonical accusations of sexual abuse, but were merely reports of behavior that he, another former vicar general and the rector of the seminary in Oran considered important to bring to the Vatican’s attention.

He said he didn’t believe there had been any cover-up and that he considered Francis a victim of Zanchetta’s “manipulation.”

Gisotti didn’t directly address or dispute Manzano’s reports.

In a Jan. 4 statement, Gisotti had confirmed that Zanchetta was under preliminary investigation for alleged sexual abuse, but said that the accusations were first made in the autumn of 2018. He said the reasons for Zanchetta’s resignation were due to his difficult, tense relations with the Oran clergy and inability to govern them.

He said the current bishop of Oran was gathering testimony that hadn’t yet arrived at the Vatican bishops’ office, and that Zanchetta would refrain from working during the preliminary investigation.