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Pope Francis’ Argentinean Protegé Accused of Sex Abuse

When 53-year-old Gustavo Óscar Zanchetta abruptly left his post as bishop of Orán in Argentina in July 2017, he cited “health reasons” and a need for “treatment.” Many were concerned that he might have a terminal disease, according to local press reports at the time. After all, the popular bishop didn’t even seem well enough to hold a farewell mass.

Zanchetta tendered his resignation to Pope Francis, who often sits on such matters for months. Instead, the pope granted it within three days, according to the Associated Press, which broke the story, and soon Zanchetta was on his way to Rome, first spending time at an undisclosed location in Spain.

Now safely in Vatican City where he enjoys diplomatic immunity, the bishop stands credibly accused of sexually harassing young seminarians in the home country he shares with Francis.

Not long after resigning, Zanchetta showed up on Pope Francis’ doorstep in Rome, apparently miraculously cured. Francis, who had made his fellow countryman a bishop right after becoming pope in 2013, naturally helped him out. Francis, back when he was Cardinal Jose Bergoglio and archbishop of Argentina, apparently knew Zanchetta well. He gave the younger man a high-ranking position in the Argentinean Bishops Conference when he was president of the organization. It made sense that he would find a place for a fellow Argentine in the Curia in Rome.

By December, Francis had created a position for Zanchetta in the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, known as APSA, according to the Vatican’s own press statements from the time. The office oversees more than 5,000 lavish properties under the Vatican’s Secretariat of the Economy, run by George Pell, now on a leave of absence to fight historical sex-abuse charges in his home country of Australia.

But all the while Zanchetta was settling into his new role in Rome, the rumor mill was churning back home in Argentina. There was speculation by El Tribuno newspaper in Salta, Argentina, that he had a drug problem after he allegedly refused to allow police to search his vehicle during  a routine traffic stop, citing his role as a high-ranking bishop as the reason he did not have to succumb to the search.

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