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Argentine bishop's case overshadows pope's sex abuse summit

Published
Pope Francis attends a penitential liturgy at the Vatican, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. The pontiff is hosting a four-day summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse, a high-stakes meeting designed to impress on Catholic bishops around the world that the problem is global and that there are consequences if they cover it up (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo Via AP)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis may have wrapped up his clergy sex abuse prevention summit at the Vatican, but a scandal over an Argentine bishop close to him is only gaining steam.

The Associated Press has reported that the Vatican knew as early as 2015 about Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta's inappropriate behavior with seminarians. Yet he was allowed to stay on as bishop of the northern Argentine diocese of Oran on until 2017, when he resigned suddenly, only to be given a top job at the Vatican by Francis, his confessor.

New documents published by the Tribune of Salta newspaper show that the original 2015 complaint reported that Zanchetta had gay porn on his cellphone involving "young people" having sex, as well as naked images of Zanchetta masturbating that he sent to others.

The age of the "young people" isn't clear. But Francis told his summit Sunday that Vatican legislation criminalizing possession of child porn involving children under age 14 should change to include older victims.

"We now consider that this age limit should be raised in order to expand the protections of minors and to bring out the gravity of these deeds," Francis said.

It wasn't clear if Francis was referring to the Zanchetta case, which is now under investigation by both the Vatican and Argentine judicial authorities after alleged victims came forward accusing Zanchetta of sexual abuse.

The Vatican has insisted that Zanchetta was only facing "governance" problems at the time of his 2017 resignation and appointment at the Vatican, and that the first sexual abuse allegation was made in late 2018.

The documents, however, make clear that the Vatican was aware of inappropriate sexual behavior by Zanchetta two years before he resigned.

They show that Oran's seminary rector was so concerned that he told the Vatican ambassador in a formal complaint in 2016 that "urgent measures" were needed to protect his first-year students, since their introductory classes were held in Zanchetta's residence.

The 2016 complaint, signed by the rector and two former vicar generals, listed Zanchetta's problematic behavior with seminarians, including walking by their rooms at night, asking them for massages, going into their rooms to wake them up in the morning and sitting on their beds, inviting them to drink alcohol and having an "obsessive omnipresence" in the seminary that made the young men feel "asphyxiated."

The Vatican's longtime sex crimes prosecutor, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, on Sunday noted Francis' comments about wanting to raise the age to 18 for victims of child pornography. He said the Vatican to date only considers it a "grave delict" — and therefore handled by the Vatican office that handles sex abuse — if the porn involves a child under 14.

Asked if Francis had the Zanchetta case in mind in proposing the change, Scicluna said he didn't know any specifics about the case. But he said "if someone is investigating a case, that's not covering it up."

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More AP coverage of clergy sex abuse at https://www.apnews.com/Sexualabusebyclergy

Pope Francis attends a penitential liturgy at the Vatican, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. The pontiff is hosting a four-day summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse, a high-stakes meeting designed to impress on Catholic bishops around the world that the problem is global and that there are consequences if they cover it up (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo Via AP)
Pope Francis attends a penitential liturgy at the Vatican, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. The pontiff is hosting a four-day summit on preventing clergy sexual abuse, a high-stakes meeting designed to impress on Catholic bishops around the world that the problem is global and that there are consequences if they cover it up (Vincenzo Pinto/Pool Photo Via AP)