November 21, 2019 / 4:44 PM / 18 days ago

Argentine prosecutor calls for international arrest of bishop accused of sex abuse

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - An Argentine criminal prosecutor has requested the arrest of a Roman Catholic bishop after officials said he ignored repeated calls and emails relating to an investigation of sex abuse allegations against him.

The prosecutor in charge of gender violence and sex crimes for Oran, in the northern province of Salta, called for the arrest of Gustavo Zanchetta. The official request would need to be made by an Argentine judge, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.

Zanchetta, the former bishop of Oran, had been living in Vatican City, where he previously held a position in a Church financial department, according to a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office.

However, the prosecutors said they had not been able to reach him.

“He does not answer the phone or the email that he himself gave to be notified,” the spokeswoman told Reuters.

A representative of Zanchetta said the bishop considers himself to have been notified and that he has always cooperated with investigators.

“He is the first one to be interested in clarifying the truth, so that his reputation can be restored. For this reason he will continue to actively cooperate with the justice system,” Javier Iniesta said in a statement sent from Rome. It said Zanchetta had a residence in Argentina but made no reference to his current whereabouts.

A Vatican spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday, and Zanchetta himself could not immediately be reached.

In 2018, three priests made accusations of sexual abuse by Zanchetta to the Vatican’s ambassador in Buenos Aires. They also accused him of abuse of power and mismanagement of finances, which they said took place within St. John XXIII seminary, which Zanchetta founded in Oran in 2016.

A Vatican spokesman previously said there were no allegations of sexual abuse against Zanchetta when he took a position in December 2017 in the Vatican department known as APSA, a general accounting and human resources office that also manages the Vatican’s real estate holdings in Italy. He no longer works at APSA.

There have been allegations of sexual abuse against at least 100 clerics in Argentina, according to BishopAccountability.org, an abuse tracking group.

Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff and the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, has struggled to repair the Church’s image amid damning allegations of sexual abuse by religious officials across the world.

In neighboring Chile, the Church was engulfed by scandal after a visit by the pope last year that brought to the surface a string of abuse allegations now being investigated by criminal prosecutors.

Reporting by Cassandra Garrison; additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome; Editing by Dan Grebler and Rosalba O'Brien

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