Argentine bishop accused of sexual misconduct allowed by judge to return to Rome

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ROME – Despite the opposition from prosecutors in Argentina and the fact that he’s been suspended from his position at the Vatican, an Argentine bishop who’s been accused by two seminarians of sexual abuse was allowed by a judge to leave the country on Friday.

Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, former prelate of the Diocese of Oran was officially charged in an Argentinian court earlier this month, and on June 6 a judge had forbidden him from leaving the country. However, Judge Claudio Alejandro Parisi authorized the trip to Rome.

Zanchetta must be back in the province of Salta on August 8, when he’s expected to testify. His criminal defense lawyer, Enzo Gianotti, asked for the court to lift the restrictive measures that had been imposed on the bishop and for his documents – including his passport – to be returned.

According to Argentine newspaper El Tribuno, the defense counsel requested Zanchetta be allowed to return to the Vatican on the grounds that the bishop, who’s also being investigated by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had to attend “the initial hearing, and the psychological and psychiatric evaluations.”

The Vatican did not respond to Crux’s requests for comments.

On Friday, the judge ruled that he couldn’t revoke the measures he had imposed on the bishop because this would “affect the purposes of the criminal proceedings,” and said that he believed the “requirements are not met” to grant the prelate freedom.

However, he decided to allow Zanchetta to travel to Rome for “work-related” reasons, despite the fact the bishop was suspended from his Vatican job Jan. 4 after allegations against him were made public.

The judge’s decision is particularly puzzling seeing that Argentina and the Holy See have no extradition agreement.

Zanchetta was accused of “strange behavior” in 2015 when a diocesan secretary found pornographic pictures on the prelate’s phone. The images included gay porn featuring young men, but not minors, as well as images of the bishop touching himself. They were allegedly sent to unknown third parties.

Two years later, the bishop resigned from the diocese without explanation, but Francis appointed him to a newly created position at the Vatican’s Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which serves as a central bank for the Vatican and oversees its financial holdings.

On June 7, the the bishop was charged with “aggravated continuous sexual abuse committed by a minister of a religious organization,” and if found guilty, he could face 3 to 10 years in prison.

In a recent interview with a Mexican news station, Francis revealed that Zanchetta is also facing a trial in the Vatican. If he’s found guilty of abusing minors – or vulnerable adults – he could be removed from the priesthood.

“Before I asked for his resignation, there was an accusation, and I immediately made him come over with the person who accused him and explain it,” Francis told Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki.

According to Francis, Zanchetta argued that his phone had been hacked, and the pope believed him, so he sent the bishop back to Oran.

“The clergy didn’t feel well treated by him,” Francis said. “They complained until they made an allegation as a body to the Nunciature,” the Vatican’s embassy in Argentina.

The pope says that he then called the nuncio, who told him that the allegation of mistreatment was “serious,” and the pope understood it to be a case of “abuse of power.” So, he sent Zanchetta to Spain to receive psychological treatment and asked him to resign from the Diocese of Oran.

Once he had a replacement for the bishop, the pontiff said, he opened the investigation into the allegations against Zanchetta. He received the result of the investigation over a month ago, “and I decided that it’s necessary to have a trial. So, I gave it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma


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