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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