ROME – Following a request from the official defense counsel, the criminal trial against Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, a veteran prelate who once boasted of his friendship with Pope Francis, has been postponed until Feb. 2022, Crux has been able to confirm.
The reason given is the fact that the Vatican has allegedly not provided the office of Enzo Giannotti with the canonical file of the Church’s own investigation of the bishop, following allegations of sexual abuse against seminarians. Through his lawyer, the prelate has denied wrongdoing.
The extension was requested by the official defense counsel arguing that the file had been requested both by the defense and the prosecution, but has yet to be presented. The canonical investigation has been requested through the Vatican’s embassy in Argentina.
According to the vademecum on procedure when it comes to abuses of minors committed by priests, released in 2020 by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that among other things deals with cases of sexual abuse, “whenever civil judicial authorities issue a legitimate executive order requiring the surrender of documents regarding cases, or order the judicial seizure of such documents, the Ordinary or Hierarch must cooperate with the civil authorities.”
It’s presumed that the same applies to the Vatican when documents are requested by civil judicial authorities through the proper diplomatic channels.
Zanchetta will come to trial charged with simple sexual abuse, aggravated by being committed by a recognized religious minister against G.G.F.L. and C.M, two young seminarians at the time. Their identities are being withheld by the court.
Zanchetta, who was appointed by Francis to the northern diocese of Oran, in Salta, back in 2013, had his resignation accepted for “health reasons,” in 2017. He was then sent by the pontiff to Spain to receive psychological treatment. A few months later, the pope appointed Zanchetta to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which functions as the central bank for Vatican City, and which administers the Vatican’s financial portfolio.
At APSA, Zanchetta served as an “assessor,” a position created specifically for him. However, on Jan. 4, 2019, he was temporarily suspended from the post pending investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct with seminarians dating to his time as a diocesan bishop.
The bishop had worked closely with the pope when then Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio headed the Argentine bishops conference, and Zanchetta was one of Francis’s first episcopal appointments after being elected to the papacy.
During the pandemic, the prelate went back to the office despite the fact that he was undergoing investigation both by Argentinian civil authorities and the Vatican.
Crux has been able to confirm that Zanchetta officially left his position in June of this year, and has gone back to Argentina, though his actual whereabouts remain unknown.
According to a statement by the public ministry from last August, the former bishop of Oran was summoned under penalty of law and at least 39 witnesses are expected to testify during the hearing. The court will be composed of three judges, one woman and two men.
Though documents published in 2015 by El Tribuno of Salta, the capital of the state where Oran is located, speak of two main charges against the bishop – one of a sexual nature, the other concerning financial mismanagement – the October court appointment is to address allegations made by two former seminarians of sexual abuse.
Documents seen by Crux allege that Zanchetta paid nighttime visits to the seminary, where he would observe students with a flashlight, sit in their beds early in the morning, and have them give him hugs and massages.
When Zanchetta was formally accused of sexually abusing seminarians in 2019, the public ministry said he could face three to 10 years in prison.