Pope says Argentine bishop now facing Vatican abuse trial

FILE – In this Aug. 26, 2016 file photo, former Bishop of Oran Gustavo Zanchetta participates in negotiations with border workers in Oran, Salta, Argentina. Bishop Zanchetta is now on trial at the Vatican, accused of sexually abusing seminarians. Pope Francis revealed the development Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in an interview with Mexico’s Televisa. (AP Photo/Javier Corbalan, File)

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — An Argentine bishop close to Pope Francis is now on trial at the Vatican, accused of sexually abusing seminarians.

Francis revealed the development in an interview with Mexico’s Televisa Tuesday. He said he received the results of a preliminary investigation into Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta two weeks ago and ordered the case be handed over for trial by a Vatican tribunal.

Zanchetta resigned suddenly as bishop of Oran, Argentina in 2017 and within a few months, Francis named him to a senior Vatican administration position.

Through documents and interviews, The Associated Press and Argentina’s Tribune of Salta have reported that the Vatican was aware of inappropriate sexual behavior by Zanchetta two years before he resigned.

The Vatican had insisted Zanchetta was only facing governance problems at the time, and that the first accusation of abuse only came in late 2018.

Francis acknowledged in the interview that he asked Zanchetta about the first accusations against him, made in 2015 and involving nude selfies on his cellphone. He said he gave Zanchetta the benefit of the doubt when he claimed his phone had been hacked.

A year later, documents show that Oran’s seminary rector was so concerned about Zanchetta’s behavior that he told the Vatican ambassador in a formal complaint that “urgent measures” were needed to protect his first-year students, since their introductory classes were held in Zanchetta’s residence.

The 2016 complaint, signed by the rector and two former vicar generals, listed Zanchetta’s problematic behavior with seminarians, including walking by their rooms at night, asking them for massages, going into their rooms to wake them up in the morning and sitting on their beds, inviting them to drink alcohol and having an “obsessive omnipresence” in the seminary that made the young men feel “asphyxiated.”

Francis didn’t refer to that 2016 complaint in his interview. He jumped instead to 2017, saying as soon as he received a subsequent complaint, he summoned Zanchetta to the Vatican and had him resign.

He denied the appointment to the Vatican’s financial oversight office was a soft-landing, saying that a psychiatric analysis had determined Zanchetta had aptitude for administration and that he required further treatment in Spain, making his continued residence in Argentina unrealistic.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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