An Argentine bishop considered close to Pope Francis was sentenced this Friday to four years and six months in effective prison for sexual abuse against two seminariansaccording to the ruling of a court in the city of Oran (northwest Argentina), which ordered his immediate arrest.
Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta, 57, who traveled from the Vatican to attend the hearings and was present in the room, fHe was sentenced as “author of the crime of simple sexual abuse continued and aggravated for being committed by a minister of religious worship”according to a statement from the Judiciary of the province of Salta.
The trial began two weeks ago in Oran, a small city 1,700 km north of Buenos Aires.
Zanchetta was bishop of the diocese of Oran from 2013, a position to which he was appointed by the Argentine pope, until his resignation in 2017.
He was also an advisor for the management of Vatican assets, and had pleaded not guilty to the accusation of the two seminarians.whose identity was not disclosed and are referred to by their initials.
The court further requested that, once the judgment becomes final (after possible appeals), Zanchetta is registered in the Genetic Data Bank, where rapists are registered.
“We are with mixed feelings. We wanted the maximum penalty, I was very much looking forward to this day that has finally arrived. Justice was served in some way, the victims have been believed and the truth has come to light”, declared Estela Mari, a relative of one of the seminarians, at the gates of the court.
The complaint against the bishop was filed in 2018 by two seminarians, about events that, according to their account, occurred between 2014 and 2015.
Testifying in court on the first day of hearings on February 21, The priest denied the accusations and claimed “to have had a good and healthy relationship with all the seminarians”. He said that “behind the complaint of the two seminarians there is another connotation,” according to the portal of the Judiciary of Salta, which does not add more details.
In addition, “he said that three priests had told him that the complaint was about revenge,” adds the official information.
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In the arguments that unfolded on Thursday, the prosecution referred to the statements of the complainants and those of several witnesses to require a sentence of 4 years and six months of effective prisonto which the judges agreed.
“It was not a plot, since they first tried to handle it in the internal sphere of the Church,” said prosecutor Soledad Filtrin Cuezzo.
Before the court, heThe seminarians ratified their complaint, pointing out that the priest made “loving proposals” to them and insistently required “massages”in addition to “exploration of their private lives”, and “supports from behind”, summarized the prosecutor in the allegation.
Zanchetta’s defense will appeal the sentence. “We do not share it because we not only consider that there is no evidence, but that the events did not happen. Obviously it is going to be appealed because we do not agree with the result”, his spokesman and canonical defender Javier Belda Iniesta told the press.
In 2017 Zanchetta suddenly resigned from the pastoral leadership of the diocese of Oran. A few months later he was appointed adviser for the management of real estate assets in the Vatican..
After public denunciations, the Vatican also opened an investigation in 2019 and suspended him from his advisory duties. At that time, The Vatican press admitted that there were known allegations of “authoritarianism” against Zanchetta but not of sexual abuse.
In addition to this cause, the former bishop of Oran has two other processes open in Argentina for alleged economic mismanagement and abuse of power. (I)
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