A sex-crimes prosecutor in Argentina has publicly requested the arrest of Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, a close friend of Pope Francis, who is now reportedly residing in the Vatican City State in the same hotel where the Pope resides, the Domus Santa Marta.
Zanchetta, the former bishop of the Oran diocese in Argentina, was charged in June with the sexual abuse of seminarians, or as the legal document states, “aggravated continuous sexual abuse committed by a minister of a religious organization.” If he is found guilty of the allegations, he could face 3 to 10 years in jail, reported the Catholic publication Crux.
Complaints about Zanchetta reportedly first arose in 2015, according to the Catholic News Agency (CNA). Quoting the Argentine paper El Tribuno, the CNA reported that one of Zanchetta's secretaries accidentally found lewd images on his cell phone and alerted authorities.
"The complaint says that some of the images depict 'young people' having sex in addition to lewd images of Zanchetta himself," according to CNA. Zanchetta reportedly claimed that his cell phone and computer had been hacked by anti-Francis forces.
Pope Francis met with Zanchetta in October 2015 and "appeared to have accepted Zanchetta's excuse that his cell phone had been hacked, and dismissed the allegations," said the CNA.
However, other claims were made in 2016-17 about alleged abuse of seminarians and Zanchetta was officially charged in June 2019. "Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta has been criminally charged with sexually assaulting two seminarians before a court in Argentina," reported the CNA on June 11, 2019.
Before those charges were made, in August 2017, Zanchetta, then 53, had resigned as bishop of Oran, citing health reasons. Four months later, in December 2017, Zanchetta was appointed by Pope Francis to a position created for him at the Vatican, assessor of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA).
"The office of 'assessor' to the APSA ... did not exist until Francis decided Zanchetta was too valuable to let go," said the Catholic Herald.
The prosecutor, Maria Soledad Filtrin Cuezzo, opposed Zanchetta leaving Argentina after he appeared to face the June 2019 charges. Nonetheless, he was allowed to depart after he showed he was employed by the Vatican, reported the CNA.
Cuezzo issued the new request for Zanchetta's arrest on Nov. 20 because, according to El Tribuno and reported by the CNA, the bishop "has has not responded to repeated telephone calls or emails to the contact information provided by his defense counsel."
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the Vatican, reportedly is investigating the allegations against Zanchetta, with the backing of Pope Francis. But it is not clear where Zanchetta is at this point as the Vatican Press Office has not answered queries about his whereabouts, reported the Catholic Herald.
Commenting on the case, Christopher Altieri at the Catholic Herald, said, "There may well be an element of grandstanding in the Argentine prosecutor’s decision to make the international capture request while Pope Francis is away in Asia. But even if it is so, that does not mean the prosecutor is merely grandstanding."
"The prosecution has a case it is ready to bring to trial, but can’t because the accused left the country with a puzzling note from a high-ranking Vatican official and now won’t respond to calls or emails sent to the Vatican addresses he gave the court," said Altieri.