VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta was set to leave Vatican City to present himself before judicial authorities in Argentina before a Nov. 28 deadline that, if ignored, could result in an arrest warrant.
The bishop, who has been living at the Vatican guesthouse where Pope Francis lives, was scheduled to leave Nov. 25 to arrive in Salta, Argentina, Nov. 26, in time for a Nov. 27 court appearance, according to his spokesman and lawyer.
The former bishop of Oran has been accused of “aggravated continuous sexual abuse” of two former seminarians as well as defrauding the government.
The Argentine judge following the case, Maria Toledo Zamora, stated Nov. 21 that a prosecutor’s request for the bishop’s arrest would not be considered until a Nov. 28 deadline. The procedure to issue the arrest warrant would be launched it the bishop did not present himself before that date to respond to accusations, she said in a statement.
Javier Belda Iniesta, the bishop’s canon lawyer, released a written statement Nov. 23 stating Bishop Zanchetta has declared he is innocent of the charges and was cooperating with the judicial process so as to “ascertain the facts.”
The public prosecutor, Maria Soledad Filtrin Cuezzo, stated that calls to the bishop’s residence in Argentina and emails went unanswered, prompting officials to suspect the bishop was not cooperating with the judicial process, so they asked the judge for an arrest warrant.
Belda said in the statement that the bishop is not at an unknown location or on the run, but is at the Vatican guesthouse, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he has been living the past two years. The lawyer said the Domus had been declared as the bishop’s actual residence to authorities in Argentina. He said the bishop had received no emails from the prosecutor’s office.
The bishop had been working in the Vatican’s real estate administration office but was suspended when a preliminary diocesan investigation was launched after accusations came to light of sexual abuse, abuse of power and mismanagement in his former Diocese of Oran.
In July 2013 Pope Francis named Bishop Zanchetta to lead the Diocese of Oran; however, the bishop asked the pope to accept his resignation in 2017 for “reasons of health,” and he reportedly sought psychological help in Spain.
Four months after his resignation, Bishop Zanchetta was named by the pope to a newly created role of “assessor” at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, commonly referred by its Italian acronym APSA.
The pope told a reporter in May that he personally requested the bishop be investigated, which is handled by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the congregation will await what comes out of the proceedings in Argentina.
The bishop appeared in court in Argentina in August for a formal hearing of the charges against him. The court allowed him to return to the Vatican after documenting he was still employed at APSA and lived at the Vatican guesthouse.
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