Seminarians Suffer, and the Pope Does Not Care

When you come to the seminary to seek God’s will, you do not expect…

1. that the bishop will develop a lustful crush on you, and

2. give you love-bird type gifts, like cologne, and

3. ask you about your sexual history and penis size, and then

4. sneak up behind you in the seminary kitchen, grab your crotch, kiss you on the neck, and thrust his pelvis into your buttocks,

and then, for years, repeatedly

5. demand, under “obedience,” with threats of expulsion, that you massage his, neck, back, and buttocks, while he groans in sexual pleasure, as you grudgingly submit, and then

6. you wake up in your dormitory bed with him sitting next to you, his hand on your upper thigh.

When you think the Lord might be calling you to the priesthood, you have to go to seminary, because the alternative would be a life estranged from your Maker.

When you go to seminary, you have to please the bishop, because he alone–a successor of the Holy Apostles of Christ–can make you a priest.

Dear reader, do you know that the earth is littered with wounded men who tried to follow a vocation from God, but ran into an insecure, power-mad, sexually abusive predator with authority under the seminary roof?

Many of my dearest friends belong to this suffering class of men.

pope francis mccarrick
September 23, 2015

Theodore McCarrick left his trail of broken lives. My book, Ordained By a Predator, will soon see print. It attempts to document McCarrick’s spiritual war crimes. I present my work to the great International Criminal Court in heaven, where justice always prevails.

But my book hardly scratches the surface of McCarrick’s crimes against humanity. Yes, a great deal of documentation has become available these past four years. But most of McCarrick’s collateral damage remains hidden, because the powers-that-be in the Church continue to keep most of McCarrick’s secrets.

Ordained By a Predator also tries to document the crimes of McCarrick’s crony Michael Bransfield.

Again, the mitered mafia did everything possible to bury all the evidence. But, as long-time readers here remember, a brave soul on the inside leaked a secret report in the spring of 2019, and the Washington Post published the whole thing in December of that year.

Because of the courageous leaker–and also a Bransfield victim who spoke out–we learned the truth about how the bishop of West Virginia destroyed priestly vocations by endless drunken abuses of power, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. (Not to mention sexual abuse of minors, of which Bransfield is likely guilty, though it has never been adequately investigated.)

We sadly know that the ecclesiastical system as it now exists does not have a mechanism to deal with this problem. Pope Francis seems not to understand the problem. Or, rather, perhaps he understands it all too well.

The six-step ordeal that I outlined above: At least a dozen seminarians in northern Argentina suffered it, between 2013 and 2017, at the hands of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta.

As we mentioned earlier this month, Pope Francis has known Zanchetta for years. The pope heard numerous complaints about Zanchetta, from Catholics whose faith Zanchetta had gravely wounded. But the pope protected his old friend.

McCarrick, Bransfield, Zanchetta: similar m.o.’s. But here’s the difference, which we will explore in some detail today:

McCarrick and Bransfield have suffered nominal ecclesiastical discipline, with most of their secrets kept.

Zanchetta has never been censured by the Church in any way. But an Argentine court has now thrown him in jail. And the court has produced thorough documentation of the case.

Zanchetta verdict
Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, hearing the verdict in his case, in a courtroom in Salta, Argentina

The Spanish-speaking public can read the document published by the court at the conclusion of the criminal case. Gustavo Zanchetta convicted of sexual abuse.

Argentine law defines the crime in article 119 of the Criminal Code. Sexual abuse = violating the sexual integrity of anyone under 13, or anyone who cannot freely consent to sexual contact, as a result of a relationship of authority and/or dependence. If the crime is committed by a minister of religion, that aggravates it and calls for a stiffer sentence.

In their legal analysis of the case, the three-judge panel outlines carefully how the crime of sexual abuse is understood in Argentine law. (See pages 88-91 of the court doc.)

The “legal good” protected by the law is: personal sexual integrity. That is, free sexual self-determination as a person. As the judges explain it, Argentine law requires everyone to respect the dignity of other persons, which includes the freedom to accept, or to reject, sexual contact. To treat a person as a thing, used for sexual gratification without free consent, is a crime.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchNow, it so happens that the judges’ explanation of Argentine law echoes the definition of chastity found in the Catechism (para. 2337).

The judges go on, in their explanation of the law as it applies in the Zanchetta case:

Groping, unchaste embraces, kisses with sexual significance, touching under duress, or compelling the victim to touch–these all violate the law, when the victim cannot consent, owing either to surprise, or to the relationship of authority. Or in this case, both of those.

I’m no lawyer, of course. But it seems to me that Argentine law reflects our Catholic understanding of sexual integrity more comprehensively than our U.S. law does.

Maybe some states have laws like the Argentine law; I don’t know. But I’m afraid that the former seminarians who denounced Zanchetta to the Argentine D.A. would not have gotten anywhere with a criminal prosecution in the U.S. They would have had to hire their own lawyer and undertake a civil case, and Zanchetta would not have faced the prospect of imprisonment.

In addition to the legal reasoning, the Argentine court document contains the testimony of 35 witnesses. Plus Zanchetta’s defense.

The two former seminarians who went to the police in early 2019 offered consistent and coherent testimony.

Their accusations against Zanchetta were corroborated by the eyewitness testimony of eleven other seminarians. Four additional seminarians didn’t see the abuse, but heard it about it from eye-witnesses at the time.

The accusations were further corroborated by the office employee who found gay pornography and naked selfies on Zanchetta’s phone in 2015, as well as by this man’s co-worker, and by Zanchetta’s chauffeur.

Zanchetta had tried to pressure the employees not to testify. On the stand, the chauffeur said this:

Bishop Zanchetta behaved as if he were God… I have worked for the Church for twenty years. I understand the authority structure. But it’s not blind obedience. Sometimes you cannot obey.

Francis and Zanchetta

As we noted before, Pope Francis–while he was still Cardinal Bergoglio–received documentary evidence of Father Zanchetta’s dishonesty, back in 2011.

In 2013, Argentine Catholics spiritually wounded by Zanchetta begged the new Pope Francis not to elevate such a dangerous man to the rank of bishop. And in 2015, Francis received, via hand-delivery by a Cardinal, a thumb drive with the gay porn and naked selfies inadvertently found on Zanchetta’s phone by the office employee.

Zanchetta, however, continued to abuse seminarians with impunity for two more years. He regularly told his victims that he was an untouchable “friend of the pope.” He told the seminarians that he had “talked with the pope about them.” He said, when returning from Rome, that “he had been in the pope’s bed.”

(Apparently Zanchetta used this last expression figuratively, to indicate great closeness, rather than literally. The seminarians took it that way–that is, figuratively.)

The priest in charge of the seminary had become aware of Zanchetta’s crimes and sought relief through ecclesiastical channels. There were also apparently serious financial irregularities–like with Bransfield and McCarrick. None of Zanchetta’s misuses of money have ever been fully disclosed (like with Bransfield and McCarrick). But there is a pending Argentine court case about the money.

Zanchetta suddenly resigned from office in mid-2017, “for health reasons.” Pope Francis transferred him to a position in the Vatican.

In the spring of 2019, the pope gave a long interview that I have cited here before. In that interview, Pope Francis defended how he had handled the Zanchetta affair. He said that Zanchetta had a strong answer to the charges against him. But he conceded that a Vatican trial was needed, and the wheels of justice were turning, and people just needed to be more patient.

More patient? The pope gave that interview three years ago.

In the meantime, Zanchetta stepped away from his Vatican position because of the investigation into his conduct, then returned to his position. The Vatican never censured Zanchetta in any way. Nothing about his Vatican trial has ever been made public–that is, made public by the Vatican itself.

In his defense before the Argentine court, as the court document outlines, Zanchetta maintained that the charges against him all stemmed from a plot, concocted by his enemies among the priests of the diocese. They disagreed with his decisions as bishop, so they conspired to destroy him.

“The accusers have not spoken on their own,” Zanchetta insisted. “There is something behind them.”

Zanchetta accused his ‘enemies’ among the clergy of violating their solemn promise of obedience.

He then added, regarding the charge that he had entered seminarians’ bedrooms without permission, “The bedrooms of seminarians are like the bedrooms of the children in the parents’ house.”

[That’s the sound of steam coming out of my ears, dear reader.]

Zanchetta also told the court:

In the canonical investigation, it became clear that the charges of sexual abuse against me were induced by the angry priests.

Now, regarding this canonical investigation…

1. As noted above, Pope Francis said it was underway three years ago. The following year, Zanchetta’s canon lawyer told a reporter that the process was “almost over.”

2. The Argentine court repeatedly asked for the Vatican’s findings. The judges in Argentina did not want to begin hearing witnesses until they had the Vatican documents, so they waited.

After almost two years of waiting, they finally gave up and started the trial without anything from the Vatican. Then, while the hearings were underway, a portion of the Vatican Zanchetta dossier arrived.

3. The pages that came contained canonical testimony given by seminarians and former seminarians in the aftermath of Zanchetta’s 2017 resignation.

(One of the seminarians who corroborated the accusers in the Argentine court case was actually one of the accusers in the canonical case.)

The Argentine judges found that the seminarian testimony in the Vatican dossier lined up with the testimony they heard in court, so they counted the Vatican pages as an additional proof of guilt.

The Argentine judges rejected Zanchetta’s defense. In their document, the judges point out the numerous implausibilities implied in the defense theory.

Why would former seminarians, who now have no connection with the Church, perjure themselves as part of some intra-Church feud? And how could so many perjuries cohere so well in painting a clear picture of Zanchetta’s sexual abuses?

Also, if the man really needed so many neck and back massages for health reasons, why didn’t he go to a masseur? Or a doctor?

Zanchetta maintained in his defense that the victims waited too long to go to the police. But the judges point out in their analysis: hadn’t the seminarians tried to communicate up the chain of command in the Church, but to no avail? Hadn’t they given testimony in a canonical process, only to see their testimony covered up by the Vatican?

As we noted at the time, the court found Zanchetta guilty and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison. This happened on March 4.

The incumbent bishop of Orán (Zanchetta’s successor) released a lame ‘apology’ to the victims, full of euphemisms. The Argentine Bishops’ Conference did, too.

From the Vatican: total silence.

The day after the verdict, Zanchetta’s canon lawyer, who had been sent to Orán by the Vatican, gave a press conference. He insisted that there was in fact a plot against Zanchetta, and the bishop is innocent.

So it seems like there is only one way to interpret the total Vatican silence of the past three weeks :

The canonical trial exonerated Bishop Zanchetta. He was found not guilty. (According to canonical rules, that would mean that there would be no further public reference to the case.)

But now the Argentine court has produced a thorough written record demonstrating the man’s guilt, with both overwhelming evidence and careful legal reasoning–itself based on Catholic principles. The soundness of the Argentine court’s work shows clearly how unsound the Vatican’s pretense of justice has been in this case.

Granted, this last part is purely speculation on my part. But if the Vatican had found Zanchetta guilty of anything, we would know. If the canonical trial were still underway, we would know.

No. They exonerated him. A predator guilty of ruining at least a dozen priestly vocations. And guilty of alienating God-only-knows-how-many Catholics from the Church.

Pope Francis mate.jpg

Why has Pope Francis never visited his homeland?

For five centuries, we had Italian popes. When they stepped out onto the St. Peter’s loggia, they were already in their homeland.

Then we had a Polish pope. He went home, to a hero’s welcome, during the first year of his papacy.

Then we had a German pope. He went home, also to a hero’s welcome, within four months of his election.

Now we have an Argentine pope. After nine years, he has not visited Argentina, and has no plans to do so. (He has visited Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru.)

When a law firm investigated Pope Benedict’s record in dealing with sexual abuse in his homeland, they found significant ethical lapses and cover-ups.

What, O God, would a team of investigators find in Argentina? Are there enough thumb drives in the world to hold it all?

Update, War, Fatima Prayers

As we noted, Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta recently served as an official of the Holy See. Then a northern-Argentinian court convicted him of sexual abuse and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison.

I have been studying the court’s 98-page ruling. It includes a lot of facts, as well as certain crucial ideas about the crime of sexual abuse. I will offer a summary as soon as I can.

Malaysian Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine, July 2014

I have also been praying long and hard about war-torn Ukraine. And I have read a lot to try to understand what is happening…

Us older Americans remember how it felt to be on a war footing with Russia.

I remember our U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union at the time.

The Brezhnev Doctrine justified the armed suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. That second invasion brought an end to the short period of U.S.-Soviet ‘detente’ in the 1970’s, when we signed significant arms-control treaties.

I remember President Ronald Reagan unveiling our “Strategic Defense Initiative” in 1983. It envisioned technology that could repel a Soviet nuclear strike on us. That same year, we all watched The Day After, a tv movie about life after a nuclear war. Thoroughly terrifying.

The thing is, the early 80s were an anxious time, but it was nothing compared to now.

The cool-down in U.S.-Russia relations in the early 80s gave way to the biggest thaw of all: Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the U.S.S.R. He repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine. Then he allowed the Soviet Union to collapse altogether, without taking any military action to stop it.

The Iron Curtain fell. Germany re-united as one nation. Numerous Soviet ‘republics,’ including Ukraine, declared themselves independent of Russia. And the new President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, became a genuine friend of President Bill Clinton.

In other words, in the early 90’s, we experienced euphoria. We could hardly believe it. The Cold War with Russia was over.

Some regrettable things have happened since then, which I plan to get into soon. But for now my point is:

The situation we Americans face now is worse than the Cold War of the last century. I have no doubt that we will deal with it; we have dealt with graver things, and lived to tell the tale. But the fact remains:

A war criminal (with a world-view that we can barely understand) views us as an immediate threat to his nation’s survival. He has an arsenal that can kill us all.

This is real. And it isn’t even the hardest part of the situation.

We can understand Vladimir Putin’s point-of-view, if we try. Russia has never been a ‘nation-state’ as we Western countries generally understand the term–that is, without subjugated ‘client’ states. (Ukraine hasn’t been a Western-style nation-state, either, for that matter, until recently.)

When we consider the Ukraine that is under attack, we see something lovely being grievously harmed. Lovely as in: a people occupying a homeland with a distinct national identity, with the sovereign right to form alliances as they choose. A nation like France, or Italy, or the U.S.A.

But the governing class of Russia sees something totally different. They see a threat to their own identity. A threat grave enough to justify apparently* barbaric coercive tactics.

(* I add “apparently” only because, during a war, it is impossible to know the full truth about what is going on. But I don’t really doubt the barbarity of the coercive tactics that Russia is using.)

The hardest part of all this, for us Americans, is: How do we fit into it?

On the one hand, we face an immediate threat to our own most-precious interest. Russia has missiles that can kill us. Therefore it would seem prudent for us to de-escalate tensions with Russia.

On the other hand, we have moved very quickly in the other direction. We are participating in a huge, 21st-century “blockade.” And it seems necessary to do this, because Putin’s war has fundamentally destabilized the international consensus. Everyone must respect the territorial integrity of other nations. If we don’t all play by that rule, we don’t have the interconnected world of mutual trust that we have gotten used to living in.

The sanctions “blockade” has dragged us into World War III. It is a coercive tactic on our part, used against a sudden enemy–the most dangerous foreign enemy we have had since Britain launched the War of 1812.

And the situation rightly reminds us of World War I, also:  It involves a complex web of alliances–alliances we must honor, if we want a world of trust based on rules.

This is seriously bad place for us to be. But we don’t really have a choice.

A century ago, a similar bloody war happened in Ukraine. It broke out in the middle of WWI, in 1917.

On the day that the Russian czar abdicated, Ukraine formed part of his empire. Then Russia fell into chaos.

Ukraine declared independence in early 1918. But then the Ukrainians had to appeal to Germany for protection from the Bolshevik faction of the Russian civil war. Ukraine became one of the bloody battlefields of that war. When Germany lost WWI, Ukraine had to submit to Lenin.

It all began the same year that Our Lady appeared in Fatima and first asked that the pope consecrate “Russia” to her Immaculate Heart.

The Roman- and Ukrainian-Catholic bishops of Ukraine have asked Pope Francis to do this consecration now, and the Holy Father will do it on Friday.

I will pray with the Holy Father and the Catholic clergy of the world, in my own little hermitage. May our Lady protect Ukraine and all of us.

But I don’t mind saying that I feel odd about this particular way of praying for peace now.

In the Fatima apparitions, Our Lady spoke of “Russia”–in 1917, and again in 1929. When she did, her listeners certainly understood “Russia” to include Ukraine. Ukraine did not exist as a sovereign state in 1917. And its ‘independence’ in 1929 was thoroughly compromised by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet dictatorship. Today’s Ukrainians do not consider their nation to have been truly independent of Russia in 1929, notwithstanding its on-paper status then.

Why would we pray for peace now in accord with private apparitions from some of the darkest days of the last century? I for one think we would do better to leave the 20th century behind us, as much as possible. (We seem to have a hard time doing that.)

For me the best prayer for peace in Ukraine is the Eucharistic Prayer. It’s a prayer that belongs to the entire universal Church, without historical connections that evoke painful memories for Ukrainians and Russians alike.

That said, I will nonetheless certainly pray with our Holy Father on Friday.

These are agonizing times. May our Lady watch over us. May the good Lord deliver us.

Becoming Catholic

Dalgren Chapel
Dahlgren Chapel, Georgetown University

First week of Lent. The Purim moon comes in one week; the next full moon after that means… Easter.

Twenty-nine Lents ago, on the sunny afternoon of the first Sunday of the season, I found myself at a ceremony in St. Matthew’s cathedral, on Rhode Island Avenue, in Washington DC.

I was dead tired. I could hardly keep my eyes open during the sermon.

I was always tired on Sundays in 1992 and 1993. I spent every Saturday night waiting tables at a 24-hour cafe, just up the street from the cathedral.

Actually, that Sunday I had already been in the cathedral, for 7am Mass. I went every Sunday morning, after my shift ended. I never got there quite on time, but it didn’t matter. I was there simply to kneel and pray quietly in the back. I wasn’t Catholic yet, anyway.

That was why I was in the cathedral that particular Sunday afternoon. The ceremony was the “Rite of Election,” presided over by the bishop. The pews were filled with candidates for the Sacraments of Initiation, to be given all over the archdiocese, at Easter.

I was one of the candidates. I was going to join the Catholic Church.

Strictly speaking, the Rite of Election ceremony did not pertain to me. I was already baptized, as a Protestant. I was a Christian already. But most of our group came to St. Matthew’s anyway, that Sunday afternoon, for fellowship’s sake with the one unbaptized person among us.

The whole thing was something called “RCIA.” Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. (These days, I think, the preferred term is actually OCIA, Order of Chrisitian Initiation… But a pox on the acronyms.)

In our assigned pew that afternoon in St. Matthew’s:

The affable Georgetown Jesuit priest in charge of the campus RCIA program. The kind woman who helped Father, and who actually knew all our names. And the candidates–at least the ones who were able to make that particular ceremony. The fiancee of a grad student (the lone un-baptized member of the group). A couple undergrads. The high-school-senior daughter of a professor. A bookkeeper at the GU finance office. And sleepy me–a local waiter, suicide-prevention-hotline worker, and college drop-out, who had stumbled into this particular group through a friend studying at Georgetown.

We had a regular RCIA routine, of course, and it reflected the Lord’s-day schedule of the Georgetown undergrads: Church on Sunday evening, rather than morning.

Each Sunday we RCIA students made our way to Dahlgren Chapel on the Georgetown campus in time for the 7:30pm Sunday Mass. We sat together in a pew near the front of the chapel. After the sermon, the Jesuit celebrating the Mass would call us up in front of the altar, give us a good word, and dismiss us for our little ‘class.’

We would sidle out into a parlor in the old School of Business next door to sit with the woman who helped Father (the lovely Mary Patricia Barth Fourqurean, who I pray the Lord will bless forever, for her bottomless kindness to us) and the seminarian detailed to minister to us. They would lead a discussion of the readings we had just heard at Mass.

We each had pocket-sized Catholic Bibles. I kept mine on my person at all times. I read it on the subway on the way from my Capitol-Hill apartment to RCIA, and on the way home, and in the morning, and in the evenings. I read it whenever I could.

One homework assignment I had: to obtain a baptismal certificate.

New York Avenue Presbyterian church
New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C.

In October 1970, my parents carried me to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Rev. George Docherty, a semi-famous Scotsman, baptized me.

I called the church office there, and the secretary agreed to prepare a certificate for me to pick up. When I came by to get the envelope, I asked if I could visit the church, and I prayed a little bit there.

I handed the envelope with the certificate to Mary Pat the following Sunday evening.

The Holy Roman Catholic Church recognized this Presbyterian baptism. No plans to re-baptize me. I found this intriguing.

I mean, I understood that Baptism is for life. You don’t do it multiple times. It marks you, invisibly yet definitively, somehow. That part resonated with how being baptized had affected my life so far. I hadn’t shown up for RCIA in order to forsake the religion I learned in childhood.

I loved Jesus Christ from the time when I was old enough to understand the gospel readings that we heard on Sundays. I loved Him because of those readings. I pictured the Lord in my mind’s eye as I listened, and I loved Him. Jesus, as the four canonical gospels, read aloud in church, present Him: He was already my Lord, and Sundays in our family church growing up involved communing with Him, no doubt.

The Roman Catholic Church regarded my Protestant baptism as somehow theirs, as an act of The Church, the one and only Church. That comforted and captivated me.

All that said, when I showed up at the Catholic doorstep, I had never been to confession; the “Confirmation” I had received bore little resemblance to the sacrament of the Church, and therefore certainly did not count; and the Holy Communions I had taken thus far in my life involved bread and wine only.

…Now, the fact is, the Georgetown University “RCIA team” never really taught us much of anything. But I did not notice that. I was reading so much on my own.

In addition to the gospels, I read a helpful little book called Catholic & Christian by Alan Schreck. (An RCIA staple nationwide.) And I plowed through John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua.

Card Newman
John Henry Newman

Newman was a clergyman of the Protestant Church of England who entered the Roman Catholic Church in mid-life. He explained himself in his Apologia.

One big part of the book outlines an ancient Church controversy. In minute detail, Newman shows how the authority of the papacy held the Church together and kept Her true to Christ. I found it all thoroughly compelling.

I also read a middle-English poem called The Pearl.

The speaker of the poem falls asleep and has a vision of his daughter, who had died, across a river. He speaks with her about her death and redemption. She answers by summarizing some of Christ’s parables, and then the speaker sees the city of heaven as described in Revelation.

All the details of all the images in the poem have meaning, referring to Scripture somehow. Reading it opened up entirely new vistas in my mind. There’s more than just what meets the eye–in the Church, in the Bible, in everything.


All my reading aside, though, I showed up for RCIA for two main reasons:

1. The crucifix.

In the Protestant church I grew up in, crucifixes were unheard of. I was taught to think of a crucifix–with the body of Christ hanging on it–as something grotesque.

But I had a total change of heart on that when I was 22. Something drew me to contemplate Christ crucified. I meditated for many hours on His suffering in the flesh, on the cross.

Especially His spreading out of His arms to receive the nails. That gesture came to mean everything to me, as a sign of love, and as an instruction on the meaning of life.

Spreading out His arms, He abandoned Himself to love, to death, to the Father. And to the human race that was killing Him cruelly and mercilessly.

His doing this made life make sense to me. This is what it means to be a living human being: to give yourself to God and to your neighbor, unto death, like Jesus did at that moment.

And He opened His arms to give Himself to the Father, who was–and remains–totally invisible to the human eye. Jesus did that with complete trust.

The trust of Christ in the invisible Father shows us: On the other side of everything visible, on the other side of the sky, there is unfailing love. He cares, the One Who made the heavens and the earth. He knows, and He cares.

The Father gazes with tenderness at everything. And He governs it all with a shepherd’s heart, leading us to the pasture that we most deeply desire, but cannot even properly imagine.

When the Lord Jesus spread out His arms to receive His cruel death with a peaceful embrace, He taught us to trust the invisible heaven, the Kingdom of the Father.


2. Jesus’ quiet act of embracing death with trust: it was a religious sacrifice. Somehow I grasped that, even though no one had ever taught me to understand it that way. And that sacrifice was the sacrifice of the Catholic Holy Mass.

That’s the second reason I was sitting in St. Matthew’s on the first Sunday of Lent, 1993: I had shown up for RCIA in the first place because some supernatural force had moved me to believe in the Real Presence. To believe in it with everything I had. Jesus is present on the altar after the consecration at a Mass; His own words at the Last Supper tell us so. I believed it.

Again, the Christianity I grew up with had taught me different. We had communion every Sunday, but nothing about the ceremony communicated the idea of religious sacrifice, or that the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ were on the altar.

The way everyone at a Catholic Mass knelt down together–I knew that was where I belonged. Kneeling among the Catholics, with faith in something that the human eye cannot see.

That faith came to me as a pure gift. To know that a priest, ordained by a bishop who had himself been ordained through a chain going back to the Apostles–believing that such a priest can offer to God the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood.

Thanks to that inner force (which to this day I do not understand), I  already believed with all my heart in the Catholic priesthood and the Real Presence when I first showed up for RCIA. It’s the reason I showed up. It’s the reason I went to St. Matthew’s after I knocked-off work every Sunday morning that year. I wanted to kneel in Jesus’ presence.

I never even thought about going to Holy Communion in those days. I knew I wasn’t supposed to receive–that is, until I officially entered the Church at Easter. No problem. I just wanted to be in church and love Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

confessional…No one on the RCIA team ever really tried to teach us how to go to confession. But we did go, at a penance service in Dalgren chapel, with multiple priests, during Lent. I had never seen the Jesuit I went to, and I have never seen him since.

I was altogether at a loss about what to do, what to say, how to say it, etc. But I did feel great sorrow for my many sins. I had neglected God, and I had violated a bunch of His clear commandments. Since I had attained the use of reason and became responsible for my actions, I had been a pretty thoroughgoing arrogant prick a lot of the time. I knew I was a lost soul who had been found, praise the Lord.

I remember the penance that Father gave me to do. “Pray for the rest of us.” Ok.

…My mother had deep suspicions about my new affiliation with the organization that her hero, Martin Luther, had so vociferously criticized. She managed, however, to tolerate with kindness my eccentric youthful turn to Rome.

My brother could not even discuss the matter, he was so infuriated by it. Did it mean I would now vote Republican?

My friends, for the most part, thought I had lost my mind or been drugged by aliens. That is, except for a couple of them. One of them said to the others, “Look, Mark has always been obsessed with God.” Another was himself in the throes of becoming an observant, pious Jew, even though his family and all their Jewish friends never darkened the door of a synagogue. (He came to the Mass when I was received into the Church.)

My Episcopalian father gave me the money to order a nice, tailored suit for the Easter Vigil.

Rosary Prayers

I don’t recommend this, but: A year or so earlier I had dated a woman I worked with, who was 18 years older than me. After a couple months, the romance turned into a friendship. She herself had converted to Catholicism as a young adult, because of a previous boyfriend.

She became my RCIA “sponsor.” She gave me a tiger-eye rosary-bead set that she made a special trip to buy, at the gift shop of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

I taught myself how to say the Hail Mary, and the other Rosary prayers, on the subway.

Another ex-girlfriend tried to talk me out of going through with the Catholicism thing. She bought me a copy of Jason Berry’s Lead Us Not Into Temptation.

The book was hot off the presses that year. It exposed the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse in a number of American Catholic dioceses. It was the first major work on that subject. Berry’s investigations led the way, and he has since become a hero of mine. I should have paid a lot closer attention to his findings, twenty-nine years ago.

I did not agree then, however, with Berry’s thesis. Namely, that Catholic sexual morality is the root of the problem. I still don’t agree with that. And, yes I was young and naive in 1993, but: I could see that the attractive young woman who gave me the book had an ulterior motive. She didn’t like the idea of me becoming Catholic because she wanted me to violate Catholic sexual morality. With her.

…Holy Saturday came, and then turned, literally, into a dark and stormy night. We had rehearsed for the opening ceremony of the Vigil, with the Easter fire, in the courtyard outside the chapel. But we had to scrap our plans because of the pelting rain. We candidates stood inside, looking out, while Father, stooped under a golf umbrella buffeted by the wind, lit the Paschal candle.

…To be continued, later in Lent.

Two Argentine Friends

Zanchetta verdict
Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, hearing the verdict in his case, in a courtroom in Salta, Argentina

On February 22, 2001, Pope John Paul II created thirty-seven new Cardinals, including Theodore McCarrick and the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio.

Later that year, Bergoglio ordained his fellow Buenos-Aires native Andres Stanovnik a bishop.

In November of 2005, Cardinal Bergoglio became the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Argentina. He went on to serve in that position for six years.

During that time, then-Cardinal Bergoglio worked closely with Father Gustavo Zanchetta.

The young Father Zanchetta had studied in Rome, then returned home to Argentina around the same time that Bergoglio became a Cardinal. Zuchetta took up a chancery job in his home diocese (just south of Buenos Aires) and simultaneously served as a top staffer at the Bishops’ Conference office.

In 2011, Cardinal Bergoglio received an envelope with documents that incriminated Zanchetta. An employee of Zanchetta’s home diocese had sent them. They showed that Zanchetta is a dishonest opportunist who used his authority as a diocesan official to raid Catholic schools for money, which he used to win powerful friends for himself.

Bergoglio did nothing about this.

Pope Francis waving

In March of 2013, the Sistine-chapel conclave elected Bergoglio the new bishop of Rome.

In short order, the new pope named his old friend Zanchetta a bishop, bypassing the usual process of consultation with the Vatican embassy in Argentina.

The diocesan employee who had sent the envelope in 2011 wrote an open letter to the pope, with dozens of co-signers, begging him to reconsider.

Dear Pope Francis, …To those of us who have suffered from Zanchetta’s abuse of power, his ordination as a bishop would cause enormous pain…

Jorge Bergoglio once again ignored this man’s pleas. Stanovnik ordained Zanchetta to the episcopate, and Zanchetta became the Bishop of Orán, in northern Argentina, hundreds of miles away from his home diocese. Zanchetta immediately founded a seminary there.

Why? Why have a seminary? To help idealistic young men become priests?

No. Actually: In order to abuse the seminarians sexually. Zanchetta regularly crept up behind seminarians and grabbed them by the crotch. He would sneak through the halls late at night, with a flashlight, and enter seminarians’ rooms, and sit next to them in bed, with a bottle of hooch in hand.

If one of Zanchetta’s favorite good-looking boys tried to leave the seminary, he would pursue him and play dirty tricks on him to get him to return. In one case, he went so far as to contact an ex-seminarian’s girlfriend to tell her that the young man would be returning to the seminary (which he had no intention of doing.)

Zanchetta ruined lives. He destroyed the vocations of eager young Catholic men who were trying to dedicate themselves to the Lord and His Church. Meanwhile, the bishop’s clerical underlings threatened anyone who tried to blow the whistle.

Francis and Zanchetta

In September 2015, Zanchetta made his fatal “mistake.” He handed his phone to a diocesan employee. The bishop had pics from a couple of events that he wanted uploaded to the diocesan facebook page.

The employee downloaded the bishop’s photo gallery to a thumb drive and returned the phone. But when the employee began to go through the images, he discovered pornographic photos of the bishop and young men.

[None of the information I am collecting here is secret, at this point. It has all been published in El Tribuno, the local newspaper of the Salta Province of northern Argentina. They put together this helpful graphic of what happened next:]

El Tribuno graphic Feb 2019

The employee handed over the thumb drive to diocesan officials. It eventually made it’s way to Pope Francis, in October 2015.

The pope decided to handle the case personally. He called his old friend. They came to an agreement that Zanchetta’s “enemies” had hacked his phone. The compromising photos were not genuine; they were “trucadas”–falsified by computer tricks.

The two Argentine friends apparently hoped that their conversation would mark the end of the episode. Zanchetta had made an embarrassing mistake: he had handed his phone to a man who apparently believes in God. But now all that could blow over, they thought.

I guess they didn’t count on the fact that there were others in Orán who also believe in God. In May of 2017, three priests of the diocese went to the Vatican ambassador in Argentina to report the sexual abuse that was happening at the seminary. The priests disclosed that there were probably a dozen victims. (These brave priests were then punished by Zanchetta’s cronies for going to the nuncio.)

A couple months later, Zanchetta abruptly announced to the Catholics of Orán that he would have to leave the diocese for the sake of his health. He went to stay briefly with Stanovnik. Then he flew to Europe.

In August of that year (2017), the Vatican announced that Zanchetta, aged 53, had resigned as Bishop of Orán “for health reasons.” Very soon after that, however, a new announcement: Zuchetta will serve as a Vatican official, in the finance office, and he will live in the pope’s residence.

Again: the two old friends apparently thought they had managed to get the ugly business behind them. But, also, again: there were others in Orán who believe in a just God.

Zanchetta survivors Marcio Torina and Kevin Matias, as well as others who remain anonymous, found the courage to go to a reporter, and then to the police. They told the full story of what Zanchetta had done to them while they were in the seminary.

In the province of Salta, Argentina, sexual abuse of an adult is a crime punishable by imprisonment. If the abuser is a religious minister, that adds an aggravating factor.

The prosecutors lined up witnesses and put together their case. They sought documents from Rome–in vain. The prosecutors asked the Vatican to remand Zanchetta to Argentina, to undergo questioning. No response for over a year.

On February 21, however (two weeks ago), Zanchetta finally appeared in court in Argentina, to stand trial.

The various witnesses took the stand, and yesterday the judges found Zanchetta guilty and sentenced him to four years, six months in prison.

Let me repeat that. Again, I am not making this up. All this information is available on the El Tribuno website. Let me repeat:

Yesterday, an old friend of the pope’s; one of the first bishops he appointed; a Vatican official; a housemate of the pope’s: convicted of sexual abuse and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.

Pope Francis has known for well over a decade that Gustavo Zanchetta is a dangerous narcissist. The pope has known for five and a-half years that the man is a sex abuser.

Yet the Holy Father did not do justice for the criminal’s victims, and he did not practice “transparency.” Instead, Bergoglio spirited Zanchetta away to Rome, and into a Vatican sinecure, and into the papal residence.

But the pope’s old friend will not return to the residence. He will remain in Argentina. In prison.

Much more to come on this.