ROME – Argentine Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, a veteran prelate who once boasted of his friendship with the pope, will be tried criminally in October in his former diocese on allegations of sexual abuse against seminarians.

A hearing in the case against the former bishop of Oran, in Argentina’s northern Salta region, will take place Oct. 12-15 of this year, as announced by the local public ministry.

The local prosecutor for what are known as “family and gender violence and crimes against sexual integrity” in Oran, María Soledad Filtrín, was formally notified about the hearing, and soon after the news was shared by the public office through their website and Twitter account.

Zanchetta will come to trial charged with simple sexual abuse, aggravated by being committed by a recognized religious minister against G.G.F.L. and C.M, two young seminarians at the time. Their identities are being withheld by the court.

According to a statement by the public ministry, the former bishop of Oran was summoned under penalty of law and at least 39 witnesses are expected to testify during the hearing. The court will be composed of three judges, one woman and two men.

Zanchetta was appointed by Francis to the diocese of Oran, in northern Argentina, in 2013, making it one of his first episcopal appointments. He resigned in 2017 citing health reasons. A few months later, the pontiff appointed Zanchetta to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which functions as the central bank for Vatican City and which administers the Vatican’s financial portfolio.

In APSA, Zanchetta served as an “assessor,” a position created specifically for him. However, on Jan. 4, 2019, he was temporarily suspended from the post pending investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct with seminarians dating to his time as a diocesan bishop.

Yet Zanchetta was returned to work last year, despite the fact that he was undergoing investigation both by civil authorities and the Vatican.

Crux requests to the Vatican press office and Zanchetta’s canon lawyer to confirm that the prelate is still working have gone unanswered, as have a series of phone calls to APSA.

Though documents published in 2015 by El Tribuno of Salta, the capital of the state where Oran is located, speak of two main charges against the bishop – one of a sexual nature, the other concerning financial mismanagement – the October court appointment is to address allegations made by two former seminarians of sexual abuse.

Documents seen by Crux allege that Zanchetta paid nighttime visits to the seminary, where he would observe students with a lantern, sit in their beds early in the morning, and have them give him hugs and massages.

After accepting his resignation from Oran, Francis sent Zanchetta to Spain to receive psychological treatment. Afterwards, in the pope’s own words, he “parked” the bishop in Italy, where he’s been living in the Santa Marta residence, a hotel within Vatican grounds where the Argentine pontiff has lived since the beginning of his pontificate.

Francis also said there was no evidence of Zanchetta misusing funds, only that he wasn’t “orderly” when it came to money. The pontiff said at the time that Zanchetta had a “good vision,” but conceded he may not have been very good at “keeping track” of things – raising questions about why Francis nonetheless created an ad hoc role for Zanchetta in the administration of the Vatican’s own financial portfolio.

When Zanchetta was formally accused of sexually abusing seminarians, back in 2019, the public ministry said he could face three to 10 years in prison.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma