ROME – A top bishop in Argentina tapped to succeed a close papal friend and ally has resigned less than a year after his appointment, apparently after being asked to do so by the pope due to various problems in his previous diocese.

On May 27, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Archbishop Gabriel Antonio Mestre from leadership of the Archdiocese of La Plata in Argentina.

Mestre was appointed to La Plata last year, after its previous shepherd, Víctor Manuel Fernández, was hand picked by Pope Francis as prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and named a cardinal.

According to an official schedule of the pope’s activities, Fernández, a close friend of Francis and a ghostwriter for several papal documents, had a meeting with the pope Monday morning, the same day Mestre’s resignation was announced.

Prior to his appointment to La Plata, Mestre from 2017 until July 2023 served as bishop of his home diocese of Mar del Plata, one of Argentina’s largest and most popular costal tourist hubs.

Since Mestre’s installation in La Plata last September, the Diocese of Mar del Plata has been in turmoil, seeing two bishops resign in just three months, and one former diocesan administrator undergo a canonical inquiry.

After Mestre left Mar del Plata, being installed in La Plata last September, a former diocesan vicar general, Father Luis Albóniga, was named apostolic administrator, meaning he was in charge of running things until a new bishop was appointed.

On Nov. 21, 2023, Pope Francis named José María Baliña, an auxiliary in Buenos Aires, as the new bishop of Mar del Plata. However, Baliña resigned Dec. 13, less than a month later, due to what the diocese said were health problems, as well as personal and family problems, with Baliña saying he had “rushed” into accepting the job.

That same day, it was announced that Gustavo Larrazábal, an auxiliary in San Juan de Cuyo, had been appointed as the new bishop of Mar del Plata.

He was scheduled to take possession of the diocese Jan. 20, however, several days prior, on Jan. 9, local newspaper La Capital de Mar del Plata published a report containing allegations from a woman who accused Larrazábal of abuse of power and harassment between 2007 and 2013.

In response, the Vatican’s nunciature in Argentina said it had “full confidence” in Larrazábal, who maintained his innocence, but that Pope Francis had accepted his resignation Jan. 17, and ordered that he stay in his post as an auxiliary bishop in San Juan de Cuyo.

Larrazábal in the announcement of his resignation said he had come to the decision at the end of “a process of discernment and prayer” which led him to the conclusion that it was “not appropriate” to assume governance of Mar del Plata.

At that time, Pope Francis named Bishop Ernesto Giobando, auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires and a fellow Jesuit, as administrator of Mar del Plata, in place of Albóniga.

Giobando was seen as being the pope’s man, as he had attended the Colegio Máximo de San José in San Miguel in the Jesuit province of Buenos Aires, where the future pope once taught as a professor.

In an even more surreal turn of events for Mar del Plata, the diocesan community was informed on Jan. 28 that Albóniga had to leave the diocese and would exercise his ministry in the Diocese of Jujuy, with his departure pitched as a “time of rest” after administering the diocese through a tumultuous period.

However, two days later, the diocese issued a statement Jan. 30 saying Albóniga’s transfer to Jujuy was due to a canonical inquiry being conducted into his actions while acting as diocesan administrator following Mestre’s departure, though no specific allegations were made public.

In a May 27 letter to the community of La Plata following the announcement of his resignation, Mestre said that “Days ago, the Holy See called me to Rome to speak about some aspects of the Diocese of Mar del Plata after my transfer to the Archdiocese of La Plata after being named metropolitan archbishop by Pope Francis.”

“After confronting some different perceptions with what happened in the Diocese of Mar del Plata since November 2023 until now, Pope Francis asked me to resign from La Plata,” Mestre said.

Mestre said he then submitted his letter of resignation “With deep peace and complete righteousness of conscience before God for how I acted, trusting in the truth that sets us free, and with filial and theological obedience to the Holy Father.”

Without offering further details, Mestre addressed the Archdiocese of La Plata specifically, saying he has been “very happy” serving as archbishop there for the past eight and a half months, and that he enjoyed the various meetings he had with clergy, religious, seminarians, and laypeople.

“It pains me to leave, it pains me to leave you as pastor of this particular church that pilgrims in La Plata, but I am certain that God has much better plans that today I can’t finish deciphering,” he said, and prayed for the community amid “this new phase in waiting for the new pastor that the Lord will give through the beloved Pope Francis.”

After Monday’s announcement of Mestre’s resignation, Father Alberto Bochatey, who was tapped as administrator of La Plata, issued a statement saying the community is experiencing “a deeply theological and ecclesial moment.”

“We must respond with hope and deep love of God, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit,” he said, saying God will “give us his gifts, he will give us light.”

Bochatey pointed to the so-called gifts of the Holy Spirit, saying they are aids that help faithful to discern “the false and the true, the superfluous from the transcendental, selfishness and love. They allow us to listen to the Father in the things that happen to us and, in the truth, which is his only way.”

He thanked Pope Francis for entrusting him with administration of the archdiocese, and stressed the importance of being “united and serene, as pastors and laity…fulfilling our objectives without stopping the march.”

“There is a lot to do. The poor want to listen to our works, and not our words,” he said, and expressed his availability to all members of the archdiocese.

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