The story of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, emeritus of Orán, Argentina — broken Friday by Nicole Winfield for the Associated Press — might be no more than just plain, run-of-the-mill bad. Or it could be the tip of a continent-sized iceberg of a scandal. It is certainly a world-in-a-nutshell instance of almost everything sick and broken within the Church.
Zanchetta is currently under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct. The investigation is being conducted by the current bishop of Orán, Luis Antonio Scozzina, and is in the preliminary stages. That we are only hearing of this now would be appalling on a good day. That it comes in the midst of a critical worldwide failure of leadership in the Church, with systematic occultation of abuse near the heart of the crisis, and in the wake of promises of transparency repeated ad nauseam, is beyond execration.
The allegations against Zanchetta apparently involve misrule, bad blood, and sexual impropriety connected with the seminary Zanchetta personally founded during his tenure in Orán. There are also reports of retaliation against the priests who brought the allegations, setting once again in high relief the conspicuous and intolerable absence of protections for whistleblowers in the Church.
The Press Office of the Holy See confirmed the bones of the report for the Associated Press, and released the interim Press Office Director, Alessandro Gisotti’s remarks on the matter in an email blast to accredited journalists.
When Pope Francis accepted Zanchetta’s resignation from the See of Orán on August 1, 2017, the Press Office of the Holy See noted the development in the daily bulletin, but gave no reason for the move. Zanchetta issued his own statement citing health problems as his reason for resigning.
Now, the Press Office claims his resignation was over problems of governance. “The reason for [Zanchetta’s] resignation is tied to his difficulty in managing relations with the diocesan clergy and to very tense relations with the priests of the diocese,” Gisotti’s statement reads. “At the time of his resignation, there had been accusations of authoritarianism against [Zanchetta], but there had been no accusation of sexual abuse against him,” Gisotti’s statement continued. “The problem that emerged then was linked to the inability to govern the clergy.”
Those two things — serious governance problems and serious health problems — are not mutually exclusive, nor are they incompatible with a simmering moral crisis ready to become a scandal.
There was no reason — no good one, anyway — not to say why Zanchetta was resigning at the time he resigned, along with as much detail as possible regarding the specific kinds of tension there were between him and the diocesan clergy.
Pope Francis appointed Zanchetta to the diocese of Oran early in the first year of his reign. When an early appointment in one’s native country doesn’t work out, it is an embarrassment, but everyone understands these things happen.
Francis then created a special position for Zanchetta within the powerful department of the Roman Curia, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) that manages the Vatican’s real estate and some of the Vatican’s liquid assets — after a three months’ convalescence in Spain.
The sudden and unexpected reappearance of the Argentinian prelate, so soon after his sudden and unexpected disappearance, and in a position created specially for him, did raise eyebrows at the time. Gisotti explained in his statement Friday that Pope Fancis did not want Zanchetta’s administrative talents to go to waste. “After the period in Spain, in consideration of his administrative management capacity, he was appointed Assessor of the APSA (a position for which no responsibility of governance in the dicastery is foreseen).”
So, Zanchetta was such a good administrator —albeit a poor governor — that Pope Francis could not spare him, even with his health in such a fragile state — and the job for which Francis needed him was a tailor-made sinecure in a department already dealing with several scandals.
What if they’d just told the whole truth, right from the start?