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How do you solve a problem like Zanchetta?

(Not like this.)

Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, accused of sexually abusing young men in northern Argentina, sits in court in Or·n, Argentina, Feb. 21, 2022. Bishop Zanchetta, the retired bishop of Or·n, was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for abusing students at St. John XXIII Seminary. (CNS photo/Judiciary of Salta/handout via Reuters)

Pope Francis has sent the canon lawyer who represented his friend and former colleague in the Argentinian bishops conference, Gustavo Zanchetta (who is now a convicted sex offender serving time in prison), to investigate some of the very clerics who denounced their erstwhile bishop to the Vatican and testified against him in the secular criminal trial that saw him convicted of sex crimes against seminarians and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.

The Vatican is billing the investigation into suspected (supposed or alleged?) conduct by certain ecclesiastical personages in Orán, Argentina, as normale amministrazione, but local papers aren’t buying it.

To hear the lawyer tell it, the one thing – whatever it is or may be – has nothing to do with the other. “I perform tasks as defender in some cases,” said Javier Belda Iniesta, “and in others I perform the role of investigator, notary or even judge.”

“There is nothing strange about it,” he said. “In this case, I already knew the place.” Belda Iniesta was short on detail in remarks to local media, but he did spare a word for what he says the investigation is not: “[I]t has nothing to do with [Zanchetta], these are facts unrelated to him.” Also, this is only a “preliminary” inquiry apt “to determine whether certain facts are possessed of verisimilitude,” and whether said facts may be imputed to “someone” – who? – after which the business could go somewhere or not.

Church investigators, Belta Iniesta among them, have already summoned some witnesses involved in both the civil and canonical processes against Bishop Zanchetta. Other witnesses expect to receive a subpoena from the Church any day, now. Belda Iniesta, meanwhile, isn’t saying who sent him or who or what he’s investigating. “I can assure you that I have absolutely not revealed to anyone what I am investigating or to whom, so as not to put anyone’s good name at risk,” Salta12 quoted him as saying. “It is a matter of prudence,” Belda Iniesta explained.

Belda Iniesta did also confirm for local media that the canonical process against Bishop Zanchetta “is still open.” (Sp. que sigue abierto.)

So, the guy who represents a bishop (one already convicted of sex crimes in secular court) in a “still open” canonical process dealing with the same charges, is also conducting an undefined investigation into unspecified possible misconduct possibly committed by some of the very people who blew the whistle on said bishop – his client – and have been witnesses against said bishop, his client, in both Church and civil jurisdictions.

“Anyone who conducts himself uprightly has little to fear,” Belda said. Boy, howdy. The whistleblowers doubtless feel better already. Note to Churchmen: It was Lavrentiy Beria who said, “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.” He was not a fellow renowned for his cultivation of justice. Also, Kafka’s The Trial is not a vademecum of best practices in conducting judicial processes.

Anyone vaguely acquainted with investigative arms and prosecutor’s offices in both the civil sphere and the Church knows that assignments like this can go to anyone, and also sometimes go to the worst possible fellow when considering the “optics” of the business. So, it wouldn’t necessarily be that someone thought this was a good idea, but only that no one realized how terrible an idea it was to give this assignment to this fellow.

To hear the ecclesiastical judge tell it, however, this assignment came straight from Pope Francis. “[T]he appointment [of Belda Iniesta],” said Judge Loyola Pinto y Sancristóval, “was direct from the Holy Father.” Welp, there you have it.

Sometimes, the question isn’t, “Who thought this was a good idea?” Sometimes, the question is, “Who didn’t realize this was a terrible idea?” In this case, it appears the head man thought it was a dandy idea, so it didn’t matter at all what anyone else may or may not have thought of it.

Pope Francis has already fudged on what he knew about Bishop Zanchetta and when he knew it.

Pope Francis let Zanchetta resign under pretenses of ill health rather than face investigation and removal.

Pope Francis created a sinecure for Zanchetta in the Vatican’s central bank despite suspicion that Zanchetta had engaged in financial impropriety.

Pope Francis suspended Zanchetta from his Vatican job and then invited him on retreat with the rest of the Roman Curia.

Pope Francis let his chief-of-staff tell an Argentinian criminal court that Zanchetta was needed in the Vatican “to perform his daily tasks” despite Zanchetta’s supposed suspension from his Vatican office duties.

One may be forgiven the impression that Pope Francis considers his efforts heretofore in Bishop Zanchetta’s behalf inadequate. After all, Francis gave Zanchetta his mitre and his ring and his see, very shortly after Francis came into Peter’s.

One supposes Pope Francis is not really intent on ruining the psychological and spiritual health of the clergy in Orán, Argentina. One supposes Francis does not care to destroy what little confidence in his own leadership may remain among the faithful of that place. One supposes Francis does not intend to make a mockery of law, government, and common sense.

One supposes all that over and against a very great deal of what we know about Pope Francis’s conduct in the case of Bishop Zanchetta, inexplicably emeritus of Orán in Argentina.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 239 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. Our days of Cyber war fare ..not an impossibility that there are enough persons who have been victims of same, falsely accused ..the way to solve the problem in that case would be , to help the perpetrators to own up by coming forward , making efforts in good will to bring such to justice , clear up the name if one has been falsey accused . Civil courts can mess up big time ..our recent court reversal itself a lesson in such ..

    One good God given means for our times getting prepared for the Reign of the Divine Will .. ? the enemy also targetting those he hates as narrated by Rev.Fr. Jim Blount in the above talk .

    Holy Father too , no stranger to that battle and dealing with it in ways he sees good and fit , in wise discreet steps .. ? a path for all to follow in any such situation , even almost every such situation , since there is said to be much angst as to how there is injustice as indiffernce , hasty assumption of guilt , from the higher ups , towards the accused .. Yes , Maria The Mother would want no less for her sons .. for each of whom , she has shed mountains of tears – whether unjustly accused and framed or who fell under mountains of evil ..finding the preciousness of those tears as the ransom to help deal with such situations with patience and compassion – thank God that the Holy Father knows the song well enough . 🙂

  2. F1 needs to sit in front of the sistine chapel masterpiece and ask himself where, with all this nonsense, he’s headed…
    Pray for the pope, we must…
    Pray for a pope, we can…

  3. Given the fact reported here, that the Pontiff Francis has authorized the canon lawyer Belda, who is defending the convicted sex abuser Zanchetta (in his canonical trial) to now investigate Zanchetta’s accusers, we will also be forgiven for concluding that Pontiff Francis has utter contempt for justice and law, and that he persists in his pattern of corruption evidenced when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aries and head of the Argentine bishops Conference, in his underhanded attack on the accusers of his friend “Rev.” Julio Grassi, who is now convicted by the Argentine high court, and serving a 15 year sentence for sexually abusing minors (while running his “charity” for ophans), despite the-then Archbishop Bergoglio’s attempt to unjustly influence the judges of the Argentine high court, who have testified that they rejected Bergoglio’s behind-the-scenes maneuver to secretly submit a legal dossier prepared by lawyers he hired that smeared the witnesses and accusers of Grassi.

    Talk about the need for “aggiornamento”?!

    How about doing what Adam DeVille has suggested and “updating” the decadent system of governance in the Church, with a little more separation of pwers, checks and balances, accountability and rule of law (instead of rule by Pontiff).

  4. Even in the twilight of his Papacy, Bergoglio is a dedicated protector of the corrupt and sexual predators. The sooner his Pontificate ends the better.

  5. – on health benefits of honey and garlic ..the words /actions of the Holy Father, often that honey garlic combination , conveying the inner strength in calmness, in being faithful to the never easy prophetic role that comes from a heart of goodness , innocense , not doing things for applause – as evident again in the Angelus address of yest –

    Many here already might know Fr.Johannes- the gifted priest , who says the TLM at his mountain home – came across the surprising site yest –

    His mention of finding solace in the new life , for healing from the wounds
    of chidhood abuse …..
    ? the hidden thread that connects many wounded hearts , in the under current of the stream of anger towards the Holy Father, The Council …the wounds of spiritual childhoods of having been in churches that did not nourish what was being sought after .. of ( ? generational ) wounds of having belonged to churches that despised The Mother and Latin Mass and all – feeling at home, upon returning to communities that seem to restore the lost ..
    then asked to get up and move …

    The Love for The Spirit in the words of Fr.Jim, as conveyed in above – to help to see the destiny for the move … as to what is in the Heart of The Church , in her efforts , in words that St.John paul 11 often repeated – to not be afraid – to hear the song of The Bride in the right tune and depth for our times –

    FIAT !

  6. A matter of justice. For example, priests have been convicted and incarcerated in the US with little evidence, some eventually released when the case was reviewed.
    An example is touching, three priests I’m familiar with were dismissed from the priesthood for placing their hand on a young man’s lap. That’s all. Now if I place my hand on a woman’s lap that’s considered a sexual advance, and rightly so. However, if a woman places her hand on a man’s lap during conversation it’s brushed off as simple womanly affection [it’s seen in the media during interviews]. Is it possible for a man to do the same to another man without thought of sexual inducement? I certainly wouldn’t advise it, and never had the inclination to do so. But I’m not every man.
    The charges against Zanchetta, “The two victims said that Zanchetta had made amorous proposals and had requested massages from the two” (Christine Rousselle for CNA). Isn’t it significant that these are allegations only. No accusation of actual sexually explicit acts. Are the allegations more susceptible to reexamination regarding the mind and perception of the two alleged victims?

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