Image: El Tribuno
An Argentine newspaper, El Tribuno, the first one to have reported on the Zanchetta case, published documents on Thursday [February 21] that demonstrate how bishops, the cardinal primate of Argentina, the nuncio, the Vatican, and the pope himself personally knew since 2015 about the case of a bishop who now faces a serious criminal charge of sexual abuse. In the last few days, the case has arrived in civil court, with a criminal accusation made by the victims of the former bishop of Oran. Based on photographs from a 2016 report, signed by five priests, three of whom are former diocesan vicars, it appears clear that Gustavo Zanchetta was accused not only of having obscene pictures of homosexual sex on his cell phone, but also of molesting seminarians, of not having registered the sale of an important piece of property in the diocese, and of immoral behavior related to both the finances and the people of the Diocese of Oran.
The report, which El Tribuno acquired and published photos of (read here), shows how the diocese by chance discovered photos of Zanchetta and other nude men in explicit poses. The chancellor of the diocese saw these photos while he was downloading some institutional images to his P.C. from Zanchetta’s cell phone, at Zanchetta’s personal request. The chancellor informed the authorities, beginning with the vicar general. Immediately afterward, they informed Bishop Emeritus Marcelo Colombo; Archbishop Mario Cargnello of Salta; the cardinal primate, Mario Poli, Archbishop of Buenos Aires; the papal nuncio, Paul Emile Tscherrig; and the pope. In October 2015, Gustavo Zanchetta was called urgently to Rome, and everyone in the Diocese of Oran thought it had to do with something linked to the Synod on the Family in view of the close rapport which has linked him to Jorge Mario Bergoglio ever since he was cardinal and president of the Argentine Bishops’ Conference. Zanchetta returned to Oran without anything happening, and nobody knows what he spoke about with the pope, but there are those who affirm that Bishop Zanchetta maintained that the photos were rigged.
In 2016 — as the photographs printed in El Tribuno prove — three of his vicars general and two monsignors made a formal internal denunciation to the nunciature, insisting on “strange behaviors” of Zanchetta with his seminarians. He met them without the presence of the rector of the seminary, he spent the night in their rooms with a flashlight, he asked them to give him massages, he went to their rooms at the time they were supposed to get up, he sat on their beds, he encouraged them to drink alcohol, and he showed a certain preference for those who were “a little more grateful.”
This denunciation did not have any visible repercussions, either. It was followed by another, in 2017, when alleged cases of sexual abuse of seminarians began to emerge.
Zanchetta should have left the diocese, but there was no ecclesiastical investigation, and he was not denounced to the civil authorities. And so Zanchetta landed in the Vatican, where the pope created a position for him that did not exist up until that moment: assessor of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See. Thus, he became “Number Two” in charge of the Vatican coffers and took up residence at Santa Marta, where the pope himself resides.
The internal report of five priests begins: “In the city of San Ramon del Nuovo Oran, on April 20, 2016, at 12 p.m., a meeting was held of the Vicar General, Msgr. Gabriel Acevedo, the Rector of St. John XXIII Seminary Juan José Manzano, Fr. Martin Alarcon, Msgr. Diego Pietro Calvisi, and Msgr. Andrés Buttu, in accordance with the request of His Excellency The Most Reverend Msgr. Paul Emile Tscherrig, Apostolic Nuncio of His Holiness in Argentina.”
The document, written at the request of Archbishop Tscherrig, the pope’s representative in Argentina (see the signatures below in the photo), is proof that that the Vatican knew about the accusations regarding Bishop Zanchetta since 2016. This contradicts the statements of the official spokesman of the Press Office of the Holy See, Alessandro Gisotti, who has said the “Zanchetta case” became known behind the Vatican Walls only a few months ago.
In the report, the five priests in high positions maintain that on “September 22, 2015,” the chancellor-secretary of the Diocese of Oran, Luis Díaz, told them that he had found “selfies” on Zanchetta’s cell phone of Zanchetta “nude and masturbating.” Díaz discovered these images by accident, when Zanchetta asked him to download some photos of institutional activity, and they appeared to have been sent from Zanchetta’s cell phone. Díaz also said that he found pornographic material, which was sent to him and had not been deleted from the phone’s memory.
Having received this information, the five priests state that they communicated with the former bishop of Oran, Marcelo Colombo, who told them to go to the archbishop of Salta, Mario Cargnello. “Noting the gravity of the situation, since Msgr. Zanchetta is a personal friend of the pope, Cargnello decided to be in communication with the cardinal primate of Argentina, Msgr. Mario Poli, and he asked Father Gabriel to call the nunciature to relate that the cardinal was in possession of confidential material of a very serious nature regarding the bishop of Oran,” affirms the letter.
In October 2015, Bishop Zanchetta was called by the pope. “We note that in no way could this be a case of “photoshopping,” as the bishop maintained when he returned from Rome, because everything that you see in these images, the sheets, the closet, are those found in [Zanchetta’s] bedroom.”
Chancellor Díaz, the one who discovered the selfies of Zanchetta, has also emphasized in a signed and notarized letter that the photographs were not false. In that document, which was part of the first denunciation, Zanchetta thought he had the support of Pope Francis. According to Díaz, Zanchetta said they showed the photos to him in Rome but that “he did not care about it because he had strong shoulders which could carry such a weight and get away with it.”
Furthermore, according to the report of his former chancellor-secretary, ex-bishop Zanchetta said to him that “fortunately the photos did not get sent through the nunciature, but directly to Rome, where he has the personal support of Pope Francis and the cardinal primate, Mario Poli.
A second denunciation, in 2017, was apparently accompanied by letters from seminarians. El Tribuno writes that Zanchetta once again presented himself to his “spiritual father,” Pope Francis: “He tells him: ‘Yes, Father, I am ill and I need treatment, I submit my resignation.’ The pope says to him: ‘We are going to give you treatment, and it seems you cannot govern anything.’ He came and resigned.”
One month later, the post of assessor of APSA was created for him. Now Zanchetta — who just a few days ago was in an audience with the pope — has been suspended from office, and the criminal complaint opens up new problematic scenarios, including from a diplomatic point of view.
Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino. Originally published at La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana.
Marco Tosatti is a renowned Italian journalist and Vatican expert. He has been covering the Holy See since 1981. His written work appears in La Stampa and La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana. He is the author of several books, including The Prophecy of Fatima and Investigation of the Holy Shroud. He blogs at Marcotosatti.com.