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Pope Francis greets Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta.El Tribuno

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, June 24, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A judge in Argentina allowed Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, who has been accused of serial sexual abuse of seminarians, to return to the Vatican.

Judge Claudio Alejandro Parisi in Salta, the province in northern Argentina where Zanchetta once led a diocese, ruled to permit the accused churchman to go to the Vatican under the provision that he return by August 8 to again appear before the court. Zanchetta’s defense counsel, Enzo Gianotti, asked the court to temporarily lift the restrictions imposed on the bishop and also return his passport.

Zanchetta is to return to Santa Marta, the hostel at the Vatican where Pope Francis lives. 

Restrictions were imposed in early June after Zanchetta appeared before the court. He was also ordered to submit to psychological evaluation.

Judge Parisi told Zanchetta at the time that the measures were intended to “assure his appearance at trial and assure the success of the investigation.” Zanchetta’s lawyer claims that his client has been psychologically evaluated and thus eligible for release.

Prosecutor Soledad Filtrín told the court that she opposed even the temporary lifting of the sanctions because it comes during an important point during her investigation into the allegations against Zanchetta. She said her office is waiting to receive the results of the psychological evaluations of Zanchetta and his alleged victims. The results of the probe, she said, may require Zanchetta to appear immediately before the court.

“There exists the possibility that subsequent steps in the trial will be stymied by the (permanent) lifting” of the sanctions, she said, “especially since there is no extradition treaty with the Vatican” and Argentina, she said. 

Judge Parisi agreed with Filtrín that lifting Zanchetta’s restrictions entirely “could affect the goals of the criminal trial” and that not all of the requirements are yet in place to grant liberty to the bishop. Therefore, the judge allowed Zanchetta to leave for the Vatican, from which the bishop is supposed to return.

Zanchetta was charged June 10 with alleged sexual abuse of two seminarians during his time as bishop of Oran, a suffragan see of Archdiocese of Salta. Zanchetta, while he was one of Pope Francis’ first appointments in 2013, was first accused of engaging in “strange behavior” in 2015 when nude photographs of himself and pornography were found on his cellphone.

In August 2017, the pope allowed Zanchetta to resign suddenly for “health reasons.” However, the pope appointed him Counselor to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. 

If convicted, Zanchetta faces between three and 10 years in prison.

The pope said earlier this year that he suspended Zanchetta once accusations became public, having also called for a separate canonical investigation of Zanchetta’s tenure currently being carried out by Bishop Carlos Sanchez of Tucuman, Argentina.