Brazilian bishop resigns after cell phone misconduct, prior investigations

News: Brazil

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of a Brazilian bishop Wednesday after video showed the bishop apparently engaged in sexual misconduct. The resignation came after the bishop had been investigated twice previously for allegations of misconduct.

An announcement in the August 18 Vatican news bulletin said that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Bishop Tomé Ferreira da Silva of the Diocese of São José do Rio Preto, and appointed the local metropolitan Archbishop Moacir Silva of Ribeirão Preto to serve as temporary administrator of the diocese.

Ferreira offered his resignation to the pope on Saturday, after local media reported Friday on a video which appeared to show the bishop exposing himself during a video call with another man. 

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According to local media, the video appears to be a video call with Ferreira, during which the bishop is allegedly engaged in an act of self-gratification. 

When asked to confirm the video’s authenticity by the newspaper Diario da Regiao, the bishop acknowledged that the images were of him but declined to comment on the alleged content.

“I want to know how this video came out of my cell phone and into the Diario,” Ferreira told the newspaper. “Who passed it on?” The bishop also initially threatened to make a report to the police over a potential breach of his privacy in regard to the video’s becoming public. 

The bishop has faced previous calls to resign, and Vatican investigations over allegations of personal sexual misconduct and failure to act against local clergy accused of the abuse of minors.

In 2015, Ferreira was accused of having an affair with a young man working as his driver, and of ignoring credible accusations of abuse of minors against local priests. The bishop was also accused of financial mismanagement of the diocese

Following those allegations, Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer of Sao Paolo was asked by the Vatican to investigate Ferreira. The bishop denied the allegations, and Cardinal Scherer reportedly filed a favorable report on Ferreira, after which no further action was taken.

In 2018, the bishop was investigated again, this time following allegations that he failed to act after being given information about the sexual abuse of minors by local priests.

That investigation was triggered by the 2017 arrest of a local priest who was found in possetion of child pornography on his mobile phone, as well as cards listing the personal data of local minors. The priest was arrested after a complaint by the mother of a 17 year old boy, who was concerned about her son’s frequent stays at the priest’s residence.

The investigation was carried out by Bishop José Negri of Santa Amaro and, according to local media reports at the time, involved the sworn deposition of more than 50 local priests and seminarians. 

Again, no action was taken against Ferreira, who reportedly claimed he was the victim of a smear campaign by conservative elements within the local presbyterate.

The announcement of Ferreira’s resingation comes soon after news that Argentine Bishop Oscar Zanchetta will stand trial over allegations that he sexually abused seminarians. 

Zanchetta has reportedly returned to his native Argentina after leaving his role as assessor at APSA, the Holy See’s sovereign asset manager, in June of this year. Zanchetta served in that position intermittently since it was created for him by Pope Francis in 2017, when he resigned as Bishop of Oran, for what were reported to be “health reasons.” 

It subsequently emerged that Zanchetta was the subject of numerous allegations of sexual abuse and harassment, including of seminarians, for which he will now stand trial. 

Zanchetta was first accused in 2015, when local clergy complained to the Vatican about sexually explicit images of young men, and of Zanchetta himself, found on the bishops’ mobile phone by a diocesan secretary. 

Zanchetta flew to Rome and defended himself to Pope Francis, reportedly saying his phone had been “hacked” and that he was the victim of a plot to discredit him because of his close relationship to Pope Francis. After further allegations were presented via the papal nuncio in 2017, Zanchetta again flew to Rome to meet with the pope, this time presenting his resignation as a diocesan bishop. The pope then created a Vatican role for the bishop.