BAGNKOK, Thailand – After an Argentine prosecutor requested international assistance in the arrest of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, the currently suspended “assessor” at the Vatican bank appointed directly by Pope Francis, the prelate’s lawyer said the measure is unnecessary as Zancehtta has always cooperated with the civil justice system.
Zanchetta is facing charges of defrauding the state and “aggravated continuous sexual abuse,” with two former seminarians having filed criminal complaints.
Javier Belda Iniesta, Zanchetta’s canonical representative and spokesman, said in a statement to Crux there has been no arrest order issued by a competent judicial authority in Argentina, simply a request made by the prosecution.
For an arrest warrant to be issued, a judge has to issue the order and then the Argentine government would have to request assistance from the Vatican. Zanchetta has been living at the Santa Marta, the hotel on Vatican grounds where Francis resides, since he was given a job in Rome in 2018.
The prelate served as the bishop of Oran from 2013 to 2017, when he resigned citing health reasons. He went to Spain, where he reportedly received psychological treatment, and from there, he was appointed by Francis to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which functions as the Vatican’s central bank, where he held the newly created and ill-defined position of “assessor.”
Iniesta said the prosecutor has alledged “rebellion” by the defendant, refusing to answer phone calls or emails. In fact, the lawyer said, Zanchetta considered himself “notified” after receiving an email citation to trial delivered Nov. 1 by the court of Oran. He’s been asked to appear in court Nov. 27 at 9:00 a.m. local time.
According to the lawyer, the bishop intends to be there and he didn’t respond to the citation because no response was required, with the note closing by stating “you are hereby legally notified.”
Iniesta also argued that Zanchetta always cooperated with the Argentine courts, presenting himself spontaneously before a criminal prosecutor, as a judge noted on August 23 when he allowed the bishop to leave the country. He did so after the bishop presented a Vatican-issued certificate in June signed by Venezuelan Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the Substitute of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
The certificate, seen by Crux in Argentina, sates that Zanchetta works in APSA and that he lives in the Casa Santa Marta.
“There has been no change in conduct in Monsignor Zanchetta since the moment the judge quoted the aforementioned collaborative attitude of the accused” Iniesta wrote. “The request [of international help for his capture] is therefore not understandable.”
The lawyer argued that the fact that the prosecutors published the request for Zanchetta’s arrest on their website without giving him a possibility to defend himself has done nothing but create “a negative image” against the bishop, ignoring the “elementary principles of intimacy and presumption of innocence.”
Iniesta said Zanchetta wants the truth to come out, so his “good name and reputation can be cleared.”
Speaking with La Nacion, Argentina’s major daily newspaper, Iniesta said Zanchetta is innocent and that the charges against him have been fabricated by three priests.
As Crux has reported, there are 20 seminarians and former seminarians who have provided testimony to the prosecutor regarding the bishop’s conduct, which allegedly included walking around the seminary at night with a flashlight and sitting in the beds of students.
Earlier this month, offices of the Diocese of Oran were raided in connection to the case, and prosecutors sought to reverse the deal allowing Zanchetta to leave the country.
Francis, who worked closely with Zanchetta when both held positions at the bishops’ conference in Argentina, acknowledged in an interview with Mexican TV in late May that Zanchetta had been investigated at his request and is currently facing a Vatican trial.
Sources tell Crux that the investigation is nearly completed, but that the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which is handling the case, is waiting for the Argentine courts.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.