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Argentine archbishop resigns abruptly as former diocese reels

An Argentine archbishop insisted he had a clear conscience Monday following his unexpected resignation after barely eight months in office.

Argentine Archbishop Gabriel Antonio Mestre. CELAM via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Archbishop Gabriel Antonio Mestre stood down as the Metropolitan Archbishop of La Plata May 27, at the age of 55, two decades ahead of the typical retirement age for diocesan bishops.


Mestre had previously served as bishop of the similarly named Diocese of Mar del Plata from 2017 to 2023, when he was named Archbishop of La Plata, succeeding the now Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the Vatican’s doctrinal chief.

The Vatican did not give a reason for Mestre’s resignation. But in a May 27 statement, the archbishop said he had been summoned to Rome in recent days to “discuss some aspects” of the situation in the Mar del Plata diocese, a suffragan see of the La Plata archdiocese.

“In the Eternal City, after confronting some different perceptions with what happened in the Diocese of Mar del Plata from November 2023 to the present, Pope Francis asked me to resign from the La Plata see,” said Mestre, who was installed as La Plata’s archbishop in September 2023.

“With profound peace and total rectitude of conscience before God for how I acted, trusting that the Truth makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32), and with filial and theological obedience to the Holy Father, I immediately wrote my resignation, which was accepted and made public today.”

Mestre’s comment about events in the Mar del Plata diocese since November 2023 likely referred to the appointment that month of his successor, Bishop José María Baliña.

The 65-year-old Baliña resigned just 22 days after Pope Francis — the first Argentine pope — named him head of the diocese serving around 774,000 Catholics.

Baliña said in a Dec. 5 letter to Catholics in the Mar del Plata diocese that he had struggled following surgery for a retinal detachment and decided to resign “after further discernment and consultation with the Holy See.”

On the day that he accepted Baliña’s resignation, the pope named the 62-year-old Bishop Gustavo Manuel Larrazábal as Mar del Plata’s new bishop. 

But 35 days later, and just three days before his installation, Larrazábal also resigned, sending shockwaves through the Argentine Church.

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Shortly before Larrazábal’s resignation, the apostolic nunciature to Argentina had taken the usual step of issuing a statement underlining that the Holy See had “full confidence” in the bishop.

The nunciature also deplored what it described as “the rumors that circulate and have no basis.”

The nunciature did not specify the nature of the rumors, but a local newspaper reported that Larrazábal’s installation had been thrown into doubt following the emergence of allegations against the bishop, a member of the Claretian order.

La Capital said that Larrazábal had faced allegations of harassment and abuse of power from an unnamed woman from Mar del Plata who worked for an organization linked to the Church. The paper said that its reporters had “obtained testimonies from people very close to the woman,” who did not wish to speak with the media.

Larrazábal, who does not appear to have responded publicly to the allegations, continues to serve as an auxiliary bishop of Argentina’s Diocese of San Juan de Cuyo.

Buenos Aires auxiliary Bishop Ernesto Giobando, S.J., is currently serving as the apostolic administrator of Mar del Plata while Pope Francis considers his third pick for the diocese since Mestre’s appointment to the La Plata archdiocese in July 2023.

In a farewell message to his almost 900,000-strong flock, Mestre said: “Today I am no longer your pastor. I want to tell you that I have been very happy these eight and a half months and for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.” 

“I have enjoyed every meeting with the lay men and women of all ages, with the consecrated men and women, with the seminarians, deacons, priests, and auxiliary bishops.” 

“Thank you for making me feel at home! Thank you for the gestures of gentleness and kindness in each of the visits! Thank you for inviting me to be part of your lives! I was truly able to experience the diversity and depth of faith in God of many of you, a committed faith that edified and enriched me more than once.”

He added: “It pains me to leave, it pains me to leave you as pastor of this particular Church that is on pilgrimage in La Plata, but I am sure that God has much better plans that I cannot finish deciphering today.” 

“I trust in the Lord because Christ is our peace (Eph 2:14)! I will always carry you in my heart, I will pray for you and I entrust you to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the intercession of Bl. Ludovica and Bl. Eduardo Pironio, so that you may prepare for this new stage in the expectation of the new shepherd that the Lord will give you through dear Pope Francis.”

On the day that Mestre’s resignation was announced, Pope Francis granted a private audience to Cardinal Fernández, who served as Archbishop of La Plata from June 2018 until his appointment as prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in July 2023.

Bishop Alberto Germán Bochatey, O.S.A., an auxiliary bishop of La Plata, will serve as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until the appointment of a new archbishop.

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