Tuesday 23 July 2019

Vatican 'knew of bishop's naked selfies for years'

Countryman: Gustavo Zanchetta is Argentinian, like Pope Francis
Countryman: Gustavo Zanchetta is Argentinian, like Pope Francis

Almudena Calatrava

The Pope promoted an Argentine protege of his even though the Vatican knew for years the bishop had taken naked selfies, exhibited "obscene" behaviour and had been accused of misconduct with seminarians, a senior cleric has claimed.

The accusation undermines Vatican claims that allegations of sexual abuse were made only a few months ago.

Pope Francis accepted Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta's resignation in August 2017. Priests in the remote northern Argentine diocese of Oran had complained about his authoritarian rule. A former vicar, seminary rector and another prelate provided several reports to the Vatican alleging abuse of power, inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment of seminarians, according to Rev Juan Jose Manzano, who was vicar-general - or assistant - to Zanchetta.

Francis had named Zanchetta, a bishop he knew well having worked together for years, to Oran, a city 1,650km north-west of Buenos Aires, in 2013. Rev Manzano said Francis had been Zanchetta's confessor and treated him as a "spiritual son".

Earlier this month, the Vatican confirmed that the new bishop of Oran had opened a preliminary canonical investigation into Zanchetta for alleged sexual abuse.

However, Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti insisted in a January 3 statement that the abuse allegations had emerged only at the end of 2018, after Zanchetta's resignation and nearly a year after Francis created the new position for him as "assessor" of the Vatican's financial management office.

The scandal over Zanchetta (54) is the latest to implicate Pope Francis as he and the Catholic hierarchy as a whole face an unprecedented crisis of confidence over their mishandling of cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors and misconduct with adults. The Pope has summoned Church leaders to a summit next month to chart the course forward for the universal Church, but his own actions are increasingly in the spotlight.

The Pope's decision to allow Zanchetta to resign quietly, and then promote him to the number two position in one of the Vatican's most sensitive offices, has raised questions again about whether Francis turned a blind eye to misconduct of his allies and dismissed allegations against them as ideological attacks.

Rev Manzano said he was one of the diocesan officials who raised the alarm about his boss in 2015 and passed on the selfies to the Vatican.

Rev Manzano said he was one of the three current and former diocesan officials who made a second complaint to the Vatican's embassy in Buenos Aires in May or June of 2017 "when the situation was much more serious, not just because there had been a question about sexual abuses, but because the diocese was increasingly heading into the abyss".

"In 2015, we just sent a 'digital support' with selfie photos of the previous bishop in obscene or out-of-place behaviour that seemed inappropriate and dangerous," he said in an interview.

"It was an alarm that we made to the Holy See via some friendly bishops.

"The nunciature didn't intervene directly, 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."

Irish Independent

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