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Bishop Gustavo ZanchettaDiocese of Orán/EWTN screenshot

ORAN, Argentina (LifeSiteNews) — An Argentinian bishop was sentenced to four and half years in prison after having been found guilty of sexually abusing two seminarians, bringing discredit to Pope Francis who had defended the bishop over past allegations made against him.

The conviction follows a February trial during which Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, bishop emeritus of Orán, in the province of Salta, northern Argentina, pleaded not guilty to all charges of alleged sexual abuse, and claimed he was victim of  revenge from priests in Orán over past differences.

Nonetheless, on February 21, the court found him guilty of “aggravated continued simple sexual abuse committed by a recognized minister of religion.”

Zanchetta was accused of abusing two seminarians, who were identified by the acronyms “G.G.F.L and C.M.”

According to Catholic news website CNA, the two victims said Zanchetta made “amorous proposals” to them and requested “massages” from them.

“We cannot determine the extent of the damage suffered by the victims, but we do have the obligation to give them an answer from the Justice and give an answer to society,” said prosecutor Pablo Rivero on Thursday.

On Friday morning, the court ordered Zanchetta’s immediate conviction and detention.

The conviction brings discredit to Pope Francis who had defended the former bishop of Orán and fellow Argentine over past allegations of sexual misconduct.

The first of such allegations were made in 2015, after pornographic pictures were found on Zanchetta’s cellphone.

He was immediately summoned to Rome to explain himself, but told Pope Francis that his phone had been hacked. At the time, Francis accepted his version of the events and said the bishop defended himself well.

“The defense is that he had his phone hacked, and he made a good defense,” Pope Francis said in a May 2019 interview.

After hearing the bishop’s defense, the pope sent him back to Argentina without taking further actions.

In 2017, Francis even appointed Zanchetta Assessor of the Administration of the Patrimomy of the Apostolic See (APSA), after Zanchetta resigned as bishop of Orán, citing “health reasons.”

This, in spite of the fact that in 2016, five priests – including three of Zanchetta’s vicar generals – and two monsignors formally accused the bishop of financial mismanagement, authoritarianism, and sexual misconduct.

In his May 2019 interview, Francis still defended Zanchetta and watered down the allegations.

“Evidently he had, some say, despotic treatment of others – he was bossy,” said the Pope, adding that Zanchetta had a “not completely clear dealing of finances.”

The pope said Zanchetta was “disorganized” but did not in fact “mishandled” things economically.

“There is no doubt that the clergy did not feel well treated by him,” he added.

In spite of his leniency towards Zanchetta, Pope Francis promised a canonical trial, seeing it as “necessary.”

“They will make a trial, they will issue a sentence and I will promulgate it,” the pope stated.

As of today, though, the Vatican has not yet published any information regarding the canonical process that Zanchetta is undergoing at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Moreover, the Vatican is yet to comment on the verdict and sentence from the Argentinian court.

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