Friday, June 07, 2024

Archbishop was asked to resign for ‘conspiring’ for friend’s appointment

An Argentine archbishop was reportedly asked to resign by the Pope because he “conspired” to ensure his former vicar general was made a bishop.

On 27 May, the Archbishop of La Plata Gabriel Antonio Mestre resigned at the Pope’s behest. He said he was “summoned” to Rome and “confronted different perceptions” of events in the Diocese of Mar del Plata, where he was bishop from 2017 to 2023.

Last year, Mestre became Archbishop of La Plata, succeeding Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández who last July became Prefect of the Dicastery of the Congregation of Faith.

In November 2023, the Pope appointed Bishop José María Baliña, an auxilary of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, to Mar del Plata, but three weeks later, he resigned on health grounds. 

Francis then designated Bishop Gustavo Manuel Larrazábal CFM, an auxiliary of the Archdiocese of San Juan de Cuyo. He too resigned following “a process of discernment and prayer”. The Vatican dismissed as “baseless rumours” allegations Larrazábal had sexually harassed a woman. then claimed to have found “widespread consensus” in Argentina that Mestre was asked to resign for “conspiring” to make his former vicar general in Mar del Plata, Fr Luis Albóniga, its next bishop. The website alleged that Mestre and Albóniga had “intervened” in the resignations of Baliña and Larrazábal.

This January, the Diocese of Mar del Plata said Albóniga had been posted “for a time” to the north-eastern Diocese of Jujuy, 2,000km away.

In a statement circulated via WhatsApp, the diocese said canonical procedure needed to be followed to shed light on Fr Albóniga’s behaviour while he was diocesan administrator from September 2023 to January 2024.

Locals protested against Albóniga’s transfer. In a letter, they said he had “earned respect through his charisma, intelligence, humilty and culture which had attracted the faithful from other parishes”.

They noted his homilies were “of an unusual quality, both regarding their religious and spiritual [content], embellished by his impeccable command of rhetoric and language”.  They added: “The proof of this is that Mass in his parish was packed out. There was not enough room for everyone who attended.”

The Argentine daily La Nación claimed the “trigger” which prompted the Pope to summon Mestre was an “orchestrated” protest against Albóniga’s transfer to Jujuy by lay Catholics on 5 April.

At the Chrism Mass in Mar del Plata Cathedral, some congregants held up hand-written signs calling for the return of Fr Albóniga. Some said: “Luis, we’re waiting for you.”

Mestre’s resignation prompted the Argentine author and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Esquivel to write to the Pope.

He described Mestre as a “pastor committed to the Church and the people of God, who travels alongside those you rightly point out are ‘disposable’, a group whose number is increasing daily in our country due to injustice, poverty and hunger”.

Esquivel added: “In times of uncertainty, lights and shadows Gabriel is one of the lights needed to reach the mind and heart of our Church and people.”