A retired Argentine bishop seen as close to the Pope Francis was on Friday sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for sexual abuse by a court in Salta Province.
Judges leading the court in the northwestern town of San Ramón de la Nueva Orán, where Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta served as bishop from 2013 to 2017, ordered his immediate detention after a trial that lasted two weeks.
Zanchetta was convicted of "simple, continued and aggravated sexual abuse," with his offence aggravated by his role as a religious minster, a statement from Salta Province’s Justice Ministry confirmed.
Once he has served his sentence, Zanchetta must sign a sex offenders registerand have his DNA registered in the national genetic data bank.
The 57-year-old, who also worked as an advisor for the management of Vatican property, had denied the charges. During testimony he claimed to have “a good and healthy relationship” with the accused, alleging they were motivated by “another connotation.”
In addition, he said that “three priests had told him that the complaint was about revenge," though he did not provide other details.
Prosecutor Soledad Filtrin Cuezzo challenged those declarations, saying that the victims had “first tried to deal with it within the Church.”
Zanchetta was appointed to the Orán diocese by Pope Francis. The charges were brought in 2018 by at least two seminary students, whose identities were withheld.
The court heard evidence from two complainants, one of whom claimed the bishop had made approaches towards him and asked for "massages" during the period between 2014 and 2015, as well "exploration of their private lives."
"We have mixed feelings," said Estela Mari, a relative of one of the seminarians, after the sentence was announced. "We wanted the maximum penalty."
Nonetheless, she still believes that justice has been served.
"The victims have been believed and the truth has come to light," she said.
In addition to this case, the former bishop of Orán has two other cases open against him the courts regarding allegations of economic mismanagement and abuse of power.
The Vatican has said that at the time of Zanchetta's resignation in 2017, there were no sex abuse claims against him.
The Catholic Church, which forbids priests from marrying, has been repeatedly rocked by child sex abuse scandals around the world over the last three decades.