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.
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.
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.
Now, 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.
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.
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?