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Bishop Zanchetta returns to work at the Vatican amid abuse trial in Argentina

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Vatican City, Jun 15, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta has returned to work at the Vatican amid an ongoing trial in Argentina, where he has been charged with sexual and financial misconduct.

Holy See Press Office director Matteo Bruni told CNA June 15 that Zanchetta had resumed his work at the Vatican while “remaining available to the Argentine judicial authorities.”

Bruni said that Zanchetta’s work at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) — the Vatican’s central reserve bank and sovereign asset management body — “does not interfere in any way with the investigations.”

Zanchetta, the former Bishop of Orán, Argentina, has been accused of “aggravated continuous sexual abuse” of two adult-aged seminarians, as well as fraud and mismanagement of funds. He denies the charges. 

The accused bishop was suspended from his role as an assessor at APSA amid a canonical investigation, announced in January 2019. 

APSA oversees real estate holdings and other sovereign assets. The financial operations APSA carries out are recorded in the database of the Vatican’s Data Processing Center, which includes the records of investments and financial transactions going back 50 years.

Zanchetta was one of Pope Francis’ first episcopal appointments in Argentina, where he led the Diocese of Orán from his appointment in July 2013 to 2017.

After being allowed to resign as Bishop of Orán for “health reasons” in 2017,  Zanchetta was appointed by Pope Francis to the specially created position of assessor at APSA.

Argentine media have since reported that the bishop was first accused of sexually inappropriate behavior as early as 2015. 

According to a report from El Tribuno, one of 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.

Pope Francis summoned Zanchetta to Rome for five days in October 2015. The bishop claimed his phone and computer had been hacked, and that the accusations were motivated by ill feeling towards the pope. Francis reportedly accepted the bishop’s excuse that his cell phone had been hacked, and took no further action. 

The Vatican has repeatedly denied having prior knowledge of sexual abuse allegations against Zanchetta before his December 2017 appointment to a Vatican office.

In a May 2019 interview, Pope Francis said that a preliminary investigation against Zanchetta had concluded and would proceed to a trial, conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

“They will make a trial, they will issue a sentence and I will promulgate it,” the pope said.

Fr. Juan José Manzano, the former vicar general of the Diocese of Orán, has claimed publicly that he first reported Zanchetta in 2015, after the pornographic images were found on his phone. Manzano said he also reported him again in 2017.

After Zanchetta was charged with assaulting two seminarians in June 2019, Orán’s Economic Crime Unit raided offices in the chancery November 2019. 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 the 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.

Zanchetta’s canon lawyer confirmed in November 2019 that the Argentine was still living in Casa Santa Marta, where he had resided for two years, in Vatican City.

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