Among the biggest of the pieces that dropped in the major Papal interview with Noticieros Televisa’s long-time Vaticanologist, Valentina Alazraki, was the one about Pope Francis’s knowledge of the character and proclivities of his old acquaintance, the disgraced former bishop of Orán, Gustavo Zanchetta.
The short version is: Pope Francis knew enough. Here is a portion of the exchange, in the Catholic World Report’s translation:
NT: Staying on the subject of the lack of information, or the fact that not everything reaches [those it should]: In Argentina, for example, media say people had informed [you] about Bishop Zanchetta, that you here in the Vatican knew. You brought him here [to the Vatican], put him in a place that you created — practically from nothing for him. People don’t understand that.
PF: No, but you have to explain it to people.
NT: That’s why I’d like you to explain it.
PF: Do you want me to explain it now? I will do so with pleasure.
NT: If you’d like…
PF: Yes, then. There had been an accusation, and, before asking him to resign, I immediately brought him here with the person who accused him. [This was] an accusation [involving Zanchetta’s] telephone.
PF: Yes, but in the end he defended himself by saying that they had hacked him, and he defended himself well. Then, in the face of evidence and a good defense, doubt remains. But, in dubio pro reo [when in doubt, decide in favor of the guilty], so I backed off [Sp. volvé, literally, “I turned around”]. And the Cardinal of Buenos Aires came to be a witness to everything. And I continued to follow it in a particular way. Certainly, he had a way of treating people that was, according to some, despotic, authoritarian, an economic management of things that was not entirely clear, it seems, but this has not been proven.
There is no doubt that the clergy did not feel well treated by him. They complained, until they made a complaint to the nunciature as a clergy. I called the nunciature and the nuncio told me: “Look, the issue of the complaint for mistreatment is serious,” abuse of power, we could say. They didn’t call it that, but this was it. I had him come here and I asked him to resign. Beautiful and clear. I sent him to Spain to take a psychiatric test. Some media have said: “The Pope gave him a holiday in Spain.” But he was there to take a psychiatric test. The test result was normal, they recommended outpatient therapy once a month.
He had to go to Madrid and do two days of therapy every month, so it didn’t make sense for him to go back to Argentina. I kept him here [at the Vatican] because the test said he had management, diagnostic, and consulting skills. Some here in Italy have interpreted [his position] as “parking” him.
NT: And they criticized you because — they said — there had not been a bad handling and you put him here in the APSA …
PF: It was not like that. Economically he was messy, but he did not manage poorly the things he did manage. He was disorderly, but the vision is good. And I started looking for a successor. Once the new bishop was there, in December of last year I decided to do the preliminary investigation of the accusations. I appointed the Archbishop of Tucumán [Carlos Alberto Sánchez, in office since October 2017]. The Congregation for Bishops proposed various names to me. I called the president of the Argentine bishops’ conference, I made him choose and he said the best one for this is the archbishop of Tucumán. Of course, mid-December in Argentina is like mid-June here — that is, the holidays — and then, January and February is like July-August here. But they did something. Something like fifteen days ago the preliminary investigation came to me. I read it, and I saw that it was necessary to make a judgment. Then I passed it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, [and] they are making the judgment. So, why do I tell you all this? To tell impatient people — who say, “He did not do anything,” that the Pope does not have to go around publishing every day what he is doing, but from the very first moment of this case I’ve not [once] stood staring. There are cases that are long, that take more — like this one — and now I explain why: because, for one reason or another, I did not have the elements or ‘h’ or ‘b’, but today the case is already in judgment at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I have not stopped.
Francis, in short, believed the explanation of his friend over and against the evidence. Then, after it became clear that his friend was morally warped and impossibly authoritarian, Francis let the fellow resign and proceeded to create a position for his friend in the Vatican, because the powerful and scandal-prone dicastery that manages the Holy See’s real estate and financial holdings could not do without the consultations and management acumen of a perverted despot.
The man entrusted with the earthly fortunes of the pilgrim Church also apparently has yet to ace the difference between prudent personnel decisions and criminal justice. He cited the maxim, in dubio pro reo, in the case of Bishop Barros, as well: to disastrous effect. He swore he’d learned his lesson after that episode, but one wonders.
Francis also said he continues to support the embattled Cardinal Archbishop of Tegucigalpa and Coordinator of his C9 C6 “kitchen cabinet” Council of Cardinal Advisers, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, because, “No one has been able to prove anything against him.” One wonders at this point what sort of evidence would satisfy this Pope, or even convince him to have real investigators take a closer look.
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