BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A prosecutor said Thursday that she is appealing a temporary travel permit for an Argentine bishop close to Pope Francis who has been formally accused of sexually abusing two seminarians.
Prosecutor Maria Soledad Filtrin is seeking to overturn a local judge’s decision to lift travel restrictions that had required Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta to surrender his passport. The judge also gave Zanchetta permission to be absent from the city of Oran until Aug. 8 for work-related reasons, without providing details.
Zanchetta has been formally accused of “aggravated continuous sexual abuse,” and the judge previously ordered him to remain in Argentina and stay away from the alleged victims or their families. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for a conviction.
Zanchetta resigned as bishop of Oran in 2017. But Francis named him to a senior Vatican administration position a few months later. The pope has said Zanchetta is also on canonical trial in a Vatican tribunal for the alleged abuse, which it has said to does not involve minors.
The prosecutor said an arrest warrant could be issued if Zanchetta failed to return to Oran, although she said Argentina and the Vatican don’t have an extradition agreement. When Zanchetta went before authorities in Argentina, he said he resided in the Vatican.
The Associated Press and the newspaper Tribune of Salta have reported that documents show the Vatican was aware of allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by Zanchetta in 2015, two years before he resigned, even though the Vatican insists the first accusation of abuse came only in late 2018.
Francis acknowledged in a TV interview earlier this year that he asked Zanchetta about the initial accusation, involving nude selfies on the bishop’s cellphone. The pope said he gave Zanchetta the benefit of the doubt after he claimed his phone had been hacked.
Documents also indicate that Oran’s seminary rector told the Vatican ambassador in a formal complaint in 2016 that “urgent measures” were needed to protect his first-year students from the bishop. The complaint, which was also signed by two former vicar generals, complained of Zanchetta walking by seminarians’ rooms at night, asking them for massages and inviting them to drink alcohol.
Francis didn’t refer to the 2016 complaint in his interview, but said as soon as he received a subsequent complaint he had Zanchetta resign.