MEXICO CITY — A diocese in northern Argentina was raided on Thursday as part of a fraud investigation into the rule of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, a man close to Pope Francis who also faces charges of sexually abusing seminarians.
The Economic Crime Unit of the city of Oran, in Salta, raided the headquarters of the Diocese of Oran for alleged fraud against the state from 2013 to 2017.
According to a local newspaper El Oranense, the procedure was carried out under great secrecy, and officials left with several folders.
Zanchetta resigned in 2017, allegedly for health reasons. Soon after, Francis transferred him to Rome, and later acknowledged that he did so after having accepted his resignation due to the bishop’s “despotic” behavior.
Zanchetta is facing charges of defrauding the state and “aggravated continuous sexual abuse,” with two former seminarians having filed a criminal complaint against him.
Over 20 seminarians have testified to the misbehavior of the bishop, which included paying visits to the seminary late at night, sitting on the beds of seminarians and giving them alcohol.
After spending some time in Spain, where he allegedly received psychological treatment, 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 worked in the newly created and ill-defined position of “assessor.”
On January 4, the Vatican acknowledged the bishop was under investigation and suspended him from his role.
Public records show that Zanchetta received over one million pesos, close to $250,000 at the time, from the provincial government for the restoration of a parish rectory and for a series of lectures in the local seminary that never took place.
Zanchetta has also been accused of mismanaging church funds donated by the faithful and of keeping the sale of a Church-owned property off the books; the funds raised through the sale remains unaccounted for.
On August 8, the bishop presented himself in court to be formally informed of the charges against him.
On the same day, a former seminarian told Crux he personally heard Zanchetta refer to the then-governor of Salta, Juan Manuel Urtubey, as the “father of providence.”
“I couldn’t believe it … We’re preparing to become priests, and we’re stealing money from those who need it most to pay for our whims,” the ex-seminarian said. “Urtubey was taking money destined for the poor. How could I then face the people, speak to the poor about Christ, when we’re stealing their food?”
It remains unclear where Zanchetta is at the moment. As Crux reported in August, the bishop used a Vatican-issued certificate dated June 3 to claim he was needed to work in Rome, which was signed by Venezuelan Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the Substitute at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.
The certificate didn’t officially summon him back to Rome, but stated that he does in fact, work in APSA and that he lives in the Casa Santa Marta, the hotel within Vatican grounds where Francis has lived since the beginning of his pontificate.
Francis, who worked closely with Zanchetta when both held positions at the bishops’ conference in Argentina, acknowledged in an interview with Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki in late May that Zanchetta had been investigated at his request and is currently facing a Vatican trial.
Sources have told Crux that the investigation in Rome 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 to complete their work, so as not to be seen as interfering in the case.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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