The Zanchetta affair (Part 2): resignation, Archbishop Stanovnik, and a Vatican position
August 24, 2022
[For background, see “The Zanchetta affair (Part 1): the bishop’s rise.”]
On July 29, 2017, El Tribuno, the leading newspaper in northern Argentina’s Salta Province (map), published a letter written by Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta to the faithful of the Diocese of Orán. The bishop said that he had just returned from Rome, where he had presented to Pope Francis his letter of resignation.
“For a long time, a health problem has not allowed me to carry out fully the pastoral ministry entrusted to me, especially considering the vast extension of our diocesan territory, and the enormous challenges we face as Church in the north of the country,” Zanchetta wrote. “That is why I have placed this decision in the hands of the Holy Father, which I believe is the best, especially thinking of you, rather than of myself, and because the recuperation I must face cannot be made here.”
On August 1, 2017, the Holy See Press Office announced that Pope Francis had accepted Bishop Zanchetta’s resignation as bishop of Orán, just four years after his appointment. On the same day, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Andrés Stanovnik, OFM Cap, of Corrientes as Orán’s apostolic administrator—a position he would hold for the next nine months. The choice of Archbishop Stanovnik seemed odd: Corrientes and Orán are over 500 miles apart, rendering the simultaneous governance of the two dioceses a significant challenge.
Stanovnik once recalled that he had first become acquainted with the future Pope before Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s priestly ordination in 1969 and said that “we had many other opportunities to meet and develop a closer relationship” over the years. Cardinal Bergoglio was the principal consecrator at Stanovnik’s Mass of episcopal ordination in 2001—just as Archbishop Stanovnik was the principal consecrator at Bishop Zanchetta’s own Mass of episcopal ordination in 2013.
In addition, Stanovnik, while leading his Argentine dioceses (Reconquista, then Corrientes), was secretary general (2004-07) and second vice president (2007-11) of CELAM, the Latin American Episcopal Council. In 2007, CELAM held its fifth major meeting since 1955; the Latin American bishops, gathered at Brazil’s principal Marian shrine of Aparecida, chose the future Pope as the editor responsible for the final document. The Aparecida document raised Cardinal Bergoglio’s profile worldwide and came to be seen as a precursor to the current pontificate.
Referring to two Capuchin Franciscan ministers-general by name, and then to Stanovnik (without naming him), Pope Francis hinted in 2018 that he had been responsible for St. John Paul II’s appointment of Stanovnik as a bishop in 2001:
First I met Flavio Carraro, with whom we were associates in the 1994 Synod; then, John Corriveau, who robbed us of a good Capuchin in Argentina to make him a counsellor, but then I vindicated myself and he was made bishop [laughter].
If Pope Francis and Archbishop Stanovnik were bound by longtime ecclesial ties, Stanovnik and Zanchetta were bound by far deeper spiritual ones. Stanovnik, who is fifteen years older than Zanchetta, is a Capuchin Franciscan friar who had served as novice master (1982-88) and provincial vicar (1987-92) of the order in Argentina. Zanchetta entered the Capuchin Franciscan order in Quilmes in 1984, left the order in October 1988, and entered the diocesan seminary in Quilmes in February 1990. Stanovnik, then, was the young Zanchetta’s novice master.
In 1989, while retaining his national position as provincial vicar of the order in Argentina, Stanovnik—in a remarkable coincidence—began a three-year term as pastor of the parish in La Cumbre, the remote rural town in central Argentina where Zanchetta had attended high school. Zanchetta’s résumé does not account for the 16-month gap between his departure from the Capuchin Franciscans in 1988 and his entry into the diocesan seminary in 1990, but if Zanchetta returned to his hometown or visited it, Stanovnik, his former novice master, would have been his parish priest.
Stanovnik, then, had known Zanchetta for nearly three dozen years and the Pope for some 50 years. Stanovnik was responsible for Zanchetta’s formation as a Capuchin Franciscan friar, would have known the circumstances that had led Zanchetta to leave the order in 1988, and likely helped pave the way for Zanchetta to enter the diocesan seminary in 1990. Stanovnik consecrated Zanchetta the bishop of the Diocese of Orán on August 19, 2013—and four years later, was appointed Orán’s apostolic administrator in the wake of his resignation.
“I was surprised, like everyone else, by the resignation of Monsignor (i.e., Bishop) Gustavo,” Stanovnik said on August 3. Rumors spread that Bishop Zanchetta had resigned because he was emotionally overwhelmed by the drug-trafficking violence in Orán, and because he had received death threats.
On December 19, 2017, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Zanchetta the assessor of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA). Under the papal regulations in force, APSA managed the Holy See’s real estate and other assets and investments.
“Thanks to God and to the Virgin Mother, my health has been fully restored, and I can assume with joy and availability this new mission entrusted to me by the Holy Father to accompany him closely and help him in his ministry as universal pastor,” Zanchetta wrote in a message to Stanovnik.
On the day of the Vatican appointment, Mexican journalist Andrés Beltramo Álvarez wrote an article for the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa questioning whether Zanchetta had ever been sick, as the bishop had claimed less than five months earlier in his letter to the faithful of the Diocese of Orán. Beltramo reported that immediately after his July 29 letter, Zanchetta resided over 500 miles away from Orán in Corrientes as a guest of Archbishop Stanovnik, and that he was seen months later in Madrid taking part in an academic ceremony. More recently, he was seen in Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Pope’s residence.
The following day, Antonio Oieni of El Tribuno reported that a Buenos Aires court was examining the financial management of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Quilmes. Zanchetta, while working as executive undersecretary of Argentina’s episcopal conference, had concurrently served for a time as the Quilmes diocese’s Episcopal Vicar for Economic Affairs and the legal representative for all of Quilmes’s diocesan schools.
Nevertheless, Zanchetta’s new career in the Vatican appeared to be on solid footing. On February 8, 2018, the Holy See Press Office announced that Pope Francis had received Bishop Zanchetta and APSA’s president, Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, that morning. On March 10, 2018, the Press Office announced that Pope Francis had received Bishop Zanchetta and Msgr. Brian Edwin Ferme, secretary of the Vatican’s Council for the Economy.
On April 6, Pope Francis appointed Father Luis Antonio Scozzina, OFM, as Bishop Zanchetta’s successor in Orán. In 2013, Father Scozzina had paid tribute to the new Pope as “the most Franciscan Jesuit we have ever known.” Scozzina at the time led an institute at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, whose president, Father Víctor Manuel Fernández, was appointed by Cardinal Bergoglio in 2009.
Archbishop Stanovnik was the principal consecrator at Father Scozzina’s Mass of episcopal ordination on May 18, 2018. The Mass took place in Orán itself—and not over a thousand miles away in Quilmes, where Bishop Zanchetta’s ordination Mass had taken place less than five years earlier.
In the meantime, Bishop Zanchetta’s future appeared bright, for APSA was a place where cardinals were made. In the 44 years that followed APSA’s founding in 1967, the six prelates who served as secretary—the second-ranking official—all received promotions and were named cardinals.
Zanchetta, as assessor, now appeared to be APSA’s de facto second-ranking official. Prior to Zanchetta’s arrival, the secretary, Father Mauro Ravella, accompanied the APSA president to meet the Pope; now Zanchetta accompanied him. Zanchetta was only 54, and it was not implausible to speculate that he, too, would in time be promoted, lead a Vatican dicastery, and become a prince of the Church.
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