The trial of a Roman Catholic bishop accused of sexually abusing young men in northern Argentina began Monday with the cleric denying the claims, in the latest court case to highlight sex crimes that have roiled the global church in recent decades.

Pope Francis, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires and the first Latin American pontiff, has repeatedly apologised for past crimes by priests and pledged to end cover-ups while ensuring that priestly sexual abuse be "erased from the face of the earth".

The latest Argentine case centres on accusations that Gustavo Zanchetta, who served as bishop of Oran in the northern province of Salta, preyed on young men studying for the priesthood at a seminary he founded in 2016.

Zanchetta denied the accusations on the first day of the trial, stressing that he had "a good and healthy relationship" with all seminarians, according to a statement from Salta's judiciary.

The bishop added that the three priests who originally accused him had told him their complaints against him were motivated by "revenge," according to the statement.

In late 2017, Zanchetta left his job as bishop in Oran to work in the Vatican's Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, a financial and accounting office that also manages church properties in Italy.

The following year, three priests accused him of sexually abusing seminarians, as well as abuse of power and financial mismanagement, which they claimed took place at the Oran seminary.

On Monday, the bishop testified that he believed his three original accusers sought to retaliate against him after he removed them from their positions with the local diocese, a judiciary official told Reuters.

But later in the day, once Zanchetta had left the courtroom, one of the young men who alleges abuse said the bishop told him he needed massages and accused Zanchetta of making "romantic advances" on him, according to the statement.

Zanchetta's trial is expected to last at least a week and includes some 15 witnesses.

A local prosecutor first called for Zanchetta's arrest in 2019, but the case has dragged on amid legal delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic and a Vatican canon law investigation.