The attempt to bring Zanchetta back to Argentina sets up a potential conflict with the Vatican. It raises pressure on the pope to comply with a criminal justice proceeding, after outside experts have called on the church to be more cooperative with civil authorities. And it puts Francis’s judgment under the spotlight.
Italian news media reported that Zanchetta is accused of abusing two adult seminarians.
Zanchetta, 55, could not be immediately reached for comment. A Vatican spokesman, who is traveling with the pope in Thailand, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to a Vatican statement from earlier this year, the bishop was on leave from his job in a Vatican financial management office. Francis has previously acknowledged that Zanchetta was facing a canonical trial inside the city-state for inappropriate sexual behavior.
Zanchetta and Francis have known each other since they worked together in the Episcopal Conference of Argentina. Zanchetta was one of the pope’s first appointments, when in 2013 he was named bishop of Orán, a town in northern Argentina not far from the Bolivian border.
Zanchetta abruptly resigned from that position in 2017 and soon after was given a newly created senior role inside the Vatican.
Investigations by the Associated Press and Argentina’s Tribune of Salta have indicated that, by that time, the Vatican had received numerous complaints about the bishop: that he had taken naked selfies, mismanaged finances and been accused of misconduct with seminarians.
In 2015, officials in Zanchetta’s diocese raised the alarm about the apparent selfies, according to AP. Francis summoned Zanchetta to Rome and asked the bishop about what had happened. Zanchetta said his phone been hacked.
“He defended himself well,” the pope recalled in a May 2019 interview with Mexico’s Televisa.
A subsequent complaint, spurred by several diocesan officials, was relayed to the Vatican in 2017 and offered a broader list of accusations, including about Zanchetta’s alleged sexual abuse inside the seminary, according to AP. Weeks later, in July 2017, Francis again met with Zanchetta — who this time stepped down as bishop of Orán.
By December 2017, however, Zanchetta had a new position inside the Vatican.
In a statement earlier this year, the Vatican said it had been unaware of accusations of sexual abuse against Zanchetta at the time of his resignation.
“The reason for his resignation is connected to his troubles handling the relationships with the diocesan clergy and with very tense relationships with the diocese priests,” the Vatican said. “At the time of his resignation, there had been accusations of authoritarianism against him but no accusations of sexual abuse.”
Zanchetta is the latest in a long line of cardinals and bishops accused of abuse. Their cases have created a troubling picture of the church’s struggle to swiftly deal with higher-ups facing accusations.
Anthony Faiola in Miami and Stefano Pitrelli in Rome contributed to this report.