The criminal trial of Bishop Oscar Zanchetta in Argentina is set to begin later this month, but the process is set to commence without requested case files from the archbishop’s canonical process at the Holy See.
Zanchhetta is accused of sexually abusing two former seminarians, and will face trial Feb. 21 in Oran, the northern Argentine city where he was diocesan bishop from 2013 until 2017.
Ahead of the trial, Zanchetta’s attorneys have subpoenaed the Vatican’s files on the bishop’s 2019 canonical trial at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The trial in Argentina, originally set to begin in October 2021, had been delayed while the court waited for those documents, according to local newspaper El Tribuno,
Since they have not arrived, the trial’s judge has ordered the process begin this month.
While Pope Francis has acknowledged authorizing the CDF process, the Vatican has released no details about the progress of the canonical trial, or if and when it concluded. Nor has the Holy See indicated that it will release to the Argentine court its files on Zanchetta.
A 2020 Vatican policy requires that diocesan bishops cooperate with judicial orders for Church documents, but it is not clear whether the Vatican considers itself bound by its own policy, or will accede to the Argentine court’s request.
Zanchetta, known to be a close friend of Pope Francis, resigned as Bishop of Oran in July 2017, claiming health problems.
He was made a bishop by the pope in 2013, shortly following Francis’ election to the papacy. After Zanchetta’s resignation from the Oran diocese, Pope Francis created a new auditor position at APSA, the Vatican’s sovereign wealth manager, government reserve bank, and paymaster.
Zanchetta was also reported to be living at the Domus Sanctae Marta, the Vatican hotel and retreat house where Pope Francis also lives.
As early as 2015, Argentine Church authorities were alerted that Zanchetta had sent sexually explicit “selfies” on his cell phone, and received “obscene” images of young men in sexual contact. The images reportedly came to light after they were discovered by an archdiocesan secretary.
Local Church officials, including Zanchetta’s own diocesan vicars and senior priests, have said that they filed several complaints to Rome over a period of years, including through the apostolic nunciature in Argentina, detailing serial sexual and financial misconduct by Zanchetta.
The Vatican initially disputed when it first became aware of accusations against Zanchetta, officially stating that it first received reports of misconduct in 2018, even while local clergy claimed they alerted Vatican to Zanchetta’s possible misconduct in 2015 and 2017.
For his part, Pope Francis said in May 2019 that he was aware of inappropriate images on Zanchetta’s phone at the time the bishop resigned from office in 2017.
The pope said he had initially given Zanchetta the benefit of the doubt, after the bishop said that his phone had been hacked, by people who wanted to damage the image of the pope.
“Before I asked him to resign, there was an accusation and I immediately made him come to me here with the person who accused him and explain it,” the pope said, confirming that after accepting Zanchetta’s resignation because he had lost the ability to govern the clergy of the diocese, he sent the bishop for psychiatric evaluation in Spain.
The Vatican first publicly acknowledged accusations of sexual abuse against the bishop in January 2019, and confirmed that Francis has authorized the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to investigate Zanchetta and open a formal canonical trial. There have been no public updates from the congregation on the progress or conclusion of that process, but Zanchetta returned to Vatican work in early 2020, before leaving again a year later, when it became clear he would face a trial in Argentina.