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Argentine bishop once defended by Pope Francis is sentenced to prison for sex abuse

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Saint Peter's Basilica is pictured at the Vatican March 7, 2013. |

A bishop in Argentina who Pope Francis initially defended amid allegations of sexual abuse and subsequently appointed to a position at the Vatican has been sentenced to prison.

An Argentinian court sentenced 57-year-old Gustavo Zanchetta to four-and-a-half years in prison on Friday, having convicted him of “simple, continued and aggravated sexual abuse,” The Guardian reported. 

Zanchetta, who served as bishop of Orán from 2013 to 2017, was accused in a formal complaint by five priests back in 2016 of having engaged in sexual abuse at the Saint John XXIII Seminary.

In 2019, the Argentine newspaper El Tribuno de Salta reported on the complaints about the conduct of Zanchetta, which had also included claims of financial misconduct.

For his part, Pope Francis had initially defended Zanchetta, claiming that the bishop had “defended himself well” at one point and giving him a position at an office in Vatican City, according to The Associated Press.

Carlos Lombardi of the Network of Survivors of Ecclesiastical Abuse in Argentina, which helped to represent the victims, said Zanchetta's sentence was “a strong blow” to the pope due to “the public defense he has made in this case.”

“They now have no arguments to protect these delinquents in cassocks,” added Lombardi, as reported by the AP.

In a statement released Friday, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which has been critical of the Catholic Church’s response to abuse among its ranks, added: “To us, this is another example of how hierarchs will choose to protect each other and their institution first and foremost and will do so at the expense of the vulnerable. Fortunately, the secular justice system has once again repudiated the good-ole-boy system in the church and decided that the testimony of the former seminarians [was] more important than the flowery words of a close friend and colleague.”

Last month, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI issued a “heartfelt request for forgiveness” in response to a report that documented hundreds of victims of abuse in the archdiocese he once led.

“In all my meetings, especially during my many Apostolic Journeys, with victims of sexual abuse by priests, I have seen at first hand the effects of a most grievous fault,” stated Benedict XVI. “I have come to understand that we ourselves are drawn into this grievous fault whenever we neglect it or fail to confront it with the necessary decisiveness and responsibility, as too often happened and continues to happen.”

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