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The Zanchetta affair (Part 4): a blockbuster article

September 06, 2022

[For background, see:

Warning: This article includes unedited descriptions of pornographic images.

Silvia Noviasky (articles, Twitter) is a journalist at El Tribuno, the principal newspaper in Argentina’s Salta Province (map), in which the remote Diocese of Nueva Orán (also known simply as Orán) is located.

On August 1, 2017, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, the diocese’s 53-year-old bishop. On December 19, 2017, Pope Francis appointed Zanchetta the assessor of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA). Under the papal regulations then in force, APSA managed the Holy See’s real estate and other assets and investments.

On December 28, 2018, Noviasky reported that Pope Francis had asked Bishop Zanchetta to resign as bishop of Orán after local priests had written the apostolic nunciature in Buenos Aires to accuse him of financial mismanagement, abuse of power, and the sexual abuse of seminarians. On January 4, 2019, Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Holy See Press Office, responded with a statement in which he acknowledged that Zanchetta had been accused of sexual abuse but denied that he had been accused at the time of his resignation or his appointment to APSA. Gisotti said that Zanchetta had not been accused until autumn 2018.

On January 20, 2019, Msgr. Juan José Manzano—an Orán parish priest who until recently had been one of the diocese’s two vicars general—went on the record for the Associated Press, telling Noviasky (who worked with AP on the story) that

in 2015, we just sent a “digital support” with selfie photos of the previous bishop in obscene or out of place behavior that seemed inappropriate and dangerous. 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.

In May or June 2017, Manzano said, he and two other priests made another complaint, this time to the nunciature, “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.”

Two days after the AP article, on January 22, Gisotti issued a second statement in which he criticized “misleading reconstructions” related to Bishop Zanchetta. Gisotti stood by his earlier statement—“with firmness,” he emphasized—in which he had said that there had been “no accusation of sexual abuse” against Zanchetta before autumn 2018.

A blockbuster article

Noviasky soon wrote a blockbuster article that included JPEG images that lent credence to Manzano’s account. The article, fittingly enough, appeared on February 21, 2019—the memorial of St. Peter Damian, the doctor of the Church who had spoken out against similar clerical abuses nearly a millennium earlier.

Noviasky’s article referred to three complaints made to the Vatican by Orán diocesan officials:

  • a back-channel complaint, made in late September 2015, that included pornographic images of Zanchetta; this complaint led to an early October 2015 meeting between the Pope and Zanchetta at the Vatican;
  • a formal complaint to the apostolic nunciature in Buenos Aires, made in April 2016, that recounted the back-channel complaint, as well as allegations that Bishop Zanchetta committed acts of financial impropriety and sexually harassed seminarians;
  • another formal complaint to the nunciature, made in 2017, that included statements from seminarians who alleged Zanchetta had sexually abused them.

In January 2019, Manzano told the Associated Press about the 2015 and 2017 complaints, but not the 2016 complaint. Manzano told Noviasky that the 2017 complaint led Pope Francis to speak with Zanchetta:

He tells him: yes, Father, I am sick, and I need treatment, I offer the resignation. The Pope says: we are going to give you treatment, and it seems to me that you cannot govern anything. He came and resigned.

The two JPEG images that Noviasky published in her blockbuster article were:

  • an unsigned and undated two-page statement, written by Luis Amancio Díaz, a layman who was then secretary-chancellor of the diocese;
  • a three-page formal complaint to the nunciature, dated April 22, 2016

The latter JPEG image bears the date that the complaint was received at the nunciature (April 26, 2016), as well as the scrawled initials of the official there who received it—suggesting that a current or former official of the nunciature (or a Vatican official who subsequently received the complaint) leaked the documents to Noviasky.

Noviasky reported that Díaz’s statement was included as an enclosure in the April 22, 2016 formal complaint. In his statement, Díaz recounted the events of September and October 2015 from his perspective, including his discovery of pornographic images on Zanchetta’s cell phone, Zanchetta’s sudden trip to the Vatican, and Zanchetta’s reaction upon his return.

The April 22, 2016 formal complaint was signed by Msgr. Gabriel Alejandro Acevedo (then vicar general and rector of the cathedral), Msgr. Juan José Manzano (then vicar general), Father Martin Gregorio Alarcón (then rector of the seminary), Father Diego Calvisi, and Msgr. Andrés Buttu.

Calvisi and Buttu were beloved elderly Sardianian missionaries who had ministered in Orán since the 1980s and had previously held leadership positions in the diocese, including diocesan administrator and vicar general. Calvisi, who died later in 2016, was born in 1920; Buttu was born in 1941.

The first JPEG image: Díaz’s statement

Díaz recalled that on the afternoon of September 21, 2015, Bishop Zanchetta handed him his phone and asked him to copy photographs sent via WhatsApp so that they could be uploaded to the diocesan Facebook page. The photographs were related to an agreement to repair the cathedral belltower.

Díaz wrote that he went to his own computer, used a USB cable to transfer Zanchetta’s folder of photographs, and immediately returned the phone to the bishop.

As he sifted through the images—first of CONIN (a nonprofit agency), and then of images related to the cathedral belltower—to decide which to upload, he saw “pornographic images of explicit homosexual sex between youths [jóvenes] and selfies of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, naked and exposing his private parts, shared by WhatsApp with third parties.” Díaz then uploaded the images related to the agreement to repair the cathedral to the diocese’s Facebook page.

Díaz transferred the photographs to a more secure folder on his computer. Díaz recalled that he was afraid, did not know what to do, but felt he had to do something because the pornographic images made him concerned about the welfare of the seminarians who lived so close to the bishop’s house. Díaz wrote that with Msgr. Manzano away, after several days he texted Msgr. Acevedo, the other vicar general, and asked for a meeting.

Díaz and Acevedo met on September 29, the day that Bishop Zanchetta began a two-day trip to another Argentine province to acquire a bronze bell for the cathedral. Acevedo agreed that the matter was serious. Diaz asked Acevedo what is usually done in such situations; Acevedo said he did not know. The two pledged absolute discretion.

The following day, September 30, Acevedo asked Díaz for a copy of the images on a pen drive. Acevedo said that he and the seminary rector, Father Martin Gregorio Alarcon, would make the 175-mile trip to Salta to meet with Archbishop Mario Cargnello.

The city of Salta is the capital of Salta Province, and the Archdiocese of Salta is Orán’s metropolitan archdiocese. Archbishop Cargnello had been Salta’s archbishop since 1999; from 1994 to 1998, he had been bishop of Orán.

The actions that Archbishop Cargnello took produced very quick results. Díaz wrote that on October 3, Bishop Zanchetta received a telephone call saying that he was urgently needed in Rome. The rumor spread in the diocesan office that Zanchetta would be taking part in the 2015 Synod on the Family, which began the following day.

Zanchetta returned from Rome at 7:00 on the evening of October 8 and complained to Díaz that the trip was expensive and a waste of time—and all because of some photographs. He asked Díaz whether he knew anything about the photographs. Díaz played dumb; he said in his statement that he was “following the recommendation of the bishop who intervened in the case” (presumably Archbishop Cargnello) and added that he was fearful of Zanchetta’s “dominant, obsessive, and vengeful” personality.

Zanchetta told Díaz that if he had hypothetically discovered the images, he would have asked the bishop whether the images were real. Zanchetta said that he had been told in Rome that his secretary-chancellor had taken the images on a pen drive to archdiocesan officials in Buenos Aires, to be given to Cardinal Mario Poli (the Pope’s successor as Archbishop of Buenos Aires).

Zanchetta said that he was shown photographs in Rome, including a photograph of someone who looked like Zanchetta hugging a boy, as well as the pornographic images. He told Díaz that the images were a photomontage, a forgery.

The second JPEG image: the April 22, 2016 formal complaint

The five priests who signed the formal complaint—Acevedo, Manzano, Alarcón, Calvisi, and Buttu—said that they were writing from the city of San Ramón de la Nueva Orán (also known simply as Orán), the diocesan see, at noon on April 22, 2016, at the request of Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, then apostolic nuncio to Argentina.

The reference to a request from Tscherrig implies there had been previous communication between the priests and Tscherrig, that Tscherrig wanted the priests to document their concerns in writing, and that the priests wanted it to be known by the readers of their letter that they had written at Tscherrig’s request.

The priests then discussed the events of September and October 2015 from their own perspective. The priests recalled that on September 22, 2015, Zanchetta asked Díaz to transfer photographs from his cell phone: photographs related to the cathedral bells and to the nonprofit CONIN.

Díaz transferred “the complete photographic gallery and then proceeded to select the best ones and save them on the computer of the chancery.” Díaz, said the five priests, then:

... unintentionally discover[ed] a significant number of pornographic images of explicit homosexual sex between youths (received from another person through WhatsApp, which were recorded in the gallery even when they can be deleted from the chat) and another significant number of “selfie” photos, self-photographed with the “selfie” system of his cell phone, naked, showing his genital organs and in masturbatory poses (sent from his cell phone to another person, and which remained in the gallery even though they could have been deleted from the chat; we note that in no way does this concern a photomontage, as the Bishop argued on his return from Rome, since all that is seen in the photographs—bed, sheets, closet—are those of his bedroom).

Díaz—“scandalized as a layman,” the priests commented—kept the matter secret for several days, until “moved by growing anguish” he contacted Acevedo. After their conversation, Acevedo consulted with Calvisi and Buttu, who recommended Acevedo tell Alarcón (the seminary rector). Alarcón “warn[ed] of the gravity of the matter because the introductory [seminary] course, lacking its own physical space, functioned in the same Bishop’s house, which made it urgent to take measures.”

Acevedo and Alarcón immediately spoke by telephone with Bishop Marcelo Colombo of La Rioja. Colombo, now Archbishop of Mendoza, was Zanchetta’s predecessor as bishop of Orán from 2009 to 2013. In addition to being Zanchetta’s predecessor, Colombo had been acquainted with Zanchetta for decades: both were originally priests of the Diocese of Quilmes, a thousand miles from Orán.

At the advice of Bishop Colombo, Acevedo and Alarcón spoke by telephone with the metropolitan archbishop, Archbishop Mario Cargnello of Salta, who was also a former Orán bishop (1994-98). Cargnello asked the two priests to promptly give him the material on a pen drive.

The following day, Acevedo and Alarcón hand-delivered a copy of the images to Cargnello. After looking at the material, Cargnello “warned of the gravity of the situation, Bishop Zanchetta being a personal friend of the Holy Father, [and] decided to communicate with the Cardinal Primate” (Cardinal Marco Poli of Buenos Aires). Cardinal Poli, in turn, asked Acevedo to call the apostolic nunciature to inform the nunciature that confidential information “of the most grave character” about Bishop Zanchetta was in Poli’s hands.

The five priests added that even before the discovery of the pornographic images, two lay diocesan employees, Manuel Alberto Gutierrez and José Saavedra, had heard what sounded like explicit audio of people having sexual relations emanating from the cell phone in Bishop Zanchetta’s pants pocket. “They are things they send you,” Zanchetta told them.

Without using the words “sexual harassment,” the five priests then documented Bishop Zanchetta’s sexual harassment of his seminarians, who said that Zanchetta would:

... watch over them at night, walking through their bedrooms at late hours with a flashlight, or ask that they give him massages, or get into their bedrooms at the hour of rising and sitting on their beds, or egg them on to drink alcoholic beverages, or certain preferences for those who were more good-looking, and an obsessive omnipresence in seminary life, creating for them a sensation of asphyxiation, all this according to comments of the same seminarians.

Turning to Zanchetta’s relations with his presbyterate, the five priests spoke of “widespread unease over the number of untimely decisions that directly affect the life and ministry of priests, such as sudden and repeated changes of destiny, coerced in any case, generating in the clergy much uncertainty, fear, and suspicion.” The five priests also charged that Zanchetta lied about the reasons why a Buenos Aires priest and a religious congregation departed from the diocese.

The priests then expressed concern about Zanchetta’s cozy relations with the provincial and municipal governments, which financed the diocese with “large amounts of money” used at the bishop’s discretion. At the time of the provincial elections, Zanchetta told seminarians that “we are pro-government” and that they “ought to vote for the governor.”

(The priests were presumably referring to the provincial election of 2015, in which Gov. Juan Manuel Urtubey, a member of the Justicialist Party that was part of a center-left coalition, won reelection to his third four-year term. A seminarian later said that Zanchetta would refer to Urtubey as “the father of providence.”)

The five priests concluded their formal complaint by discussing the origin of the funds for the construction of the seminary and work on the cathedral. A property, they said, was sold in the town of Aguas Blancas for $200,000, and the diocesan college of consultors discussed the sale. But an additional donated property was sold for $800,000, without reporting the sale—and without consultation with the College of Consultors or authorization from the Holy See—“because, according to the bishop, His Holiness personally suggested that it not appear anywhere, to prevent the diocese from being considered less needy.”

Vatican response

The Holy See Press Office did not issue a statement in response to Noviasky’s blockbuster article, which appeared at an awkward time for the Vatican: February 21, 2019, was the first day of the four-day Vatican abuse summit, officially known as the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church (acts, closing papal address).

In the final moments of the press conference on the last day of the abuse summit, journalist Inés San Martín asked about the Zanchetta case, but without referring to Noviasky’s article of three days earlier (video, 1:08:10). Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, began to say that he was not authorized (presumably to speak about the case), but later rephrased his response and said he did not have information about the case. He denied that the Pope was engaging in a cover-up, as the Pope had authorized a canonical investigation.

Gisotti, the interim director of the Holy See Press Office also responded to the journalist’s question:

You all are very familiar with the statement that I gave. We also said that clearly an investigation has been opened and obviously the investigation is still underway. Therefore, we can provide the results and give you a statement once it’s been concluded. Regarding this, what I communicated is where we stand on this. This is what I can say right now.

We do not know what effect, if any, the April 22, 2016 formal complaint from the five Orán priests had. Presumably Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig—the apostolic nuncio who had asked the priests to write the complaint—forwarded it to Vatican officials. It may have led to a private admonition from Pope Francis or Vatican officials to Zanchetta that he needed to be on better behavior; it may not have led to any papal or Vatican action at all. But despite allegations that Zanchetta shared pornographic selfies and possessed pornographic images of youths—and despite new allegations Zanchetta was sexually harassing his seminarians and committing financial impropriety—nothing seemed to change in Orán.

The last of the three complaints, which Manzano said was made to the nunciature in May or June 2017, and which according to Noviasky included statements by seminarians that Zanchetta had sexually abused them, was quickly followed by Zanchetta’s resignation. The inexplicable lack of an effective Vatican response to the April 22, 2016 complaint was a tragic missed opportunity to prevent further acts of sexual harassment and abuse in the time that followed—with searing consequences for the young men in Zanchetta’s seminary.

 


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  • Posted by: rfr46 - Sep. 09, 2022 2:43 AM ET USA

    I cannot understand the limp-wristed response to this obvious pervert (Zanchetti). No wonder the Church is being destroyed by homosexual priests and their apologists and enablers. The obvious question is why did PF act (or fail to act) as he did. Of course he knew! In any just organization, Zanchetti would have been sacked and defrocked promptly and publicly. The silence simply encourages more of same, which is what we have now.