In Argentina, the home of the pope, a court imprisons a powerful bishop for sexual abuse

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BUENOS AIRES, March 4 (Reuters) – A Catholic bishop accused of sexually abusing young men studying to become priests was found guilty by a court in northern Argentina on Friday, capping more than a week of often explicit testimony in the latest case of criminal abuse to hit the global church.

The high-profile trial took place in the home country of Pope Francis, former Archbishop of Buenos Aires and the Church’s first Latin American pontiff.

Gustavo Zanchetta, the former bishop of Oran in Argentina’s northern province of Salta, was found guilty of sexually abusing two former seminarians, which prosecutors say was aggravated due to of his status as a cleric.

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The court imposed a prison sentence of 4 and a half years to begin immediately.

Zanchetta had denied all charges in the criminal trial, as well as a separate investigation into Vatican canon law, insisting he had “a good and healthy relationship” with all the seminarians, according to trial summaries at camera provided by the local justice. Read more

“We will appeal,” Zanchetta’s lawyer Javier Belda told Reuters in an email.

Summaries of testimony provided by the court included witnesses describing unwanted touching and sexual advances by the bishop, as well as requests for massages and gifts he distributed to seminarians he was supposed to favor.

Other witnesses testified to the discovery of pornography on the Bishop’s phone as well as a history of visiting pornographic websites on a church computer he was using. Read more

Zanchetta often spoke of his close friendship with the pope, according to trial testimony.

Zanchetta had worked for the Church of Rome, tapped in 2017 to help run the Heritage Administration of the Vatican Apostolic See, a financial and accounting office that also manages its properties in Italy. He was reappointed to this position by the pope in 2020 despite an ongoing criminal investigation.

BishopAccountability.org, a US-based abuse monitoring group, welcomed Zanchetta’s sentencing in a statement on Friday.

“This is an astonishing decision from the Pope’s homeland. It is a sign that even where the Catholic Church holds power, civil societies will increasingly not tolerate the sexual abuse of young adults by powerful figures.” , the group said.

He also lambasted the pontiff for what he described as his “worrying” refusal to provide prosecutors with records from the Vatican’s own investigation into the case.

“Pope Francis should finally publicly condemn the bishop’s crimes and strip him of his title and privileges,” the statement said.

The Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Three priests first accused the Argentine bishop of sexually abusing seminarians, as well as abuse of power and financial mismanagement, in 2018, which they say happened at the seminary in Oran that the bishop founded a few years earlier.

A local prosecutor called for Zanchetta’s arrest the following year, but the case drags on amid legal delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Vatican investigation.

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Reporting by Agustin Giest in Buenos Aires; Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome; Written by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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