Bishop Zanchetta pleads not guilty at civil trial for sex abuse in Argentina

Diego Lopez Marina   By Diego Lopez Marina for CNA


Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, Bishop Emeritus of Orán. / ACI Prensa

Orán, Argentina, Feb 22, 2022 / 14:34 pm (CNA).

Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta, the Bishop Emeritus of Orán, denied Monday all charges of alleged sexual abuse of two former seminarians, during the first hearing of his civil trial.

According to a statement from the Salta provincial judiciary, Bishop Zanchetta, 57, testified Feb. 21 before the Second Chamber of the Orán Trial Court “denying the accusations of sexual abuse”, and saying that “relations with the seminarians were good”, and going on to explain his functions as head of the diocese.

Bishop Zanchetta is charged with the crime of aggravated continued simple sexual abuse committed by a recognized minister of religion to the detriment of two victims, identified by the acronyms “G.G.F.L. and C.M.”, the Salta judiciary stated. After Bishop Zanchetta’s statement in the morning, the victims were heard. This was done without the presence of the accused, who was subsequently informed.

The alleged victims G.F.L.G. and M.C. “ratified before the Court their statements made in the investigative stage, one of them saying that the priest had made ‘amorous proposals’ and required ‘massages,'” the judiciary stated.

According to the Argentine newspaper El Tribuno, the verdict should be announced Feb. 25.

The Salta criminal prosecution expects “at least 39 witnesses to give a statement during the hearing” and said that the court will consist of judges María Laura Toledo Zamora, Raúl Fernando López, and Héctor Fabián Fayos.

The Prosecutorial Unit created specifically for this case, made up of Pablo Rivero and Soledad Filtrin Cuezzo, will supervise the trial. Public defender Enzo Giannotti is in charge of Bishop Zanchetta’s defense.

The trial was originally scheduled to begin Oct. 12, 2021, but was postponed at Giannoti’s request. The defense attorney had asked the judges to wait for the files of the canonical process that Bishop Zanchetta is undergoing at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Bishop Zanchetta was one of Pope Francis’ first episcopal appointments in Argentina, leading the Diocese of Orán from July 2013 to 2017.

After being allowed to resign as Bishop of Orán for health reasons in 2017, Bishop Zanchetta was appointed by Pope Francis to the specially created position of assessor at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, which oversees the Vatican’s real estate holdings and other sovereign assets.

In addition to the charges of sexual abuse, Bishop Zanchetta has been charged with financial misconduct.

Public records show that Bishop Zanchetta received more than 1 million Argentine pesos (around $10,500) from Salta Province to restore a rectory and for lectures at a seminary, which allegedly never took place. The bishop is also accused of mismanaging Church funds donated by the faithful in the Orán diocese.

Bishop Zanchetta was suspended from his role as an assessor at APSA amid a canonical investigation, announced in January 2019.

In June 2020, the Vatican confirmed that Bishop Zanchetta had returned to work at APSA while “remaining available to the Argentine judicial authorities.”

A source working at APSA told CNA in June 2021 that the Argentine bishop had finished his service at APSA.

Argentine media have reported that the bishop was first accused of sexually inappropriate behavior as early as 2015.

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