Rorate Caeli

"Ecclesiastical Oddities": Héctor Agüer, Archbishop Emeritus of La Plata, tries to understand what is going on in the Argentine episcopate under Francis


by Archbishop Héctor Agüer
Archbishop Emeritus of La Plata, Argentina
 Buenos Aires, June 1, 2024

[La Plata, Argentina: Immaculate Conception Cathedral in central Moreno Square]

The corresponding adjective is "odd" ("rare"), which has several meanings in the dictionary; I choose one: odd is that which has little density and consistency. Although it also refers to extraordinary and extravagant things. I mean: it is an oddity that the Pope is Argentinian, what is also odd is the fact that in over a decade he has not had the concern to visit his homeland. John Paul II (Wojtyla) and Benedict XVI (Ratzinger), as soon as they were elected, the first trip they made took them to their homeland, respectively Poland and Germany. I read in “La Prensa”, a Buenos Aires newspaper: “Francis revealed that he would like to come in November or at the beginning of 2025”. Under this title, the newspaper says that the Pope “commented that it is in his plans to travel to Argentina either at the end of November or at the beginning of 2025”. According to the old saying, “think wrong and you will be right,” I dare to think that he will not come, and I outline a reason: he knows that he is not going to do very well. I may be wrong, of course, but this opinion of mine responds to a 46-year-old knowledge of Jorge Bergoglio.

 Francis' pontificate is full of oddities. In this note I will call attention to one of them. Monsignor Gabriel Mestre was Bishop of Mar del Plata, later promoted to the Metropolitan Archbishopric of La Plata, where he lasted eight and a half months. The fiction, which is usual in the Roman heights, is reduced to a news item: “The Holy Father has accepted the resignation from the pastoral government of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of La Plata, presented by His Most Reverend Excellency, Abp. Gabriel Antonio Mestre”. No further details were given. The truth is that the Pope asked him to resign; to put it crudely: he threw him out.

This news caused grief to the priests of La Plata, who had patiently endured the five-year term of Víctor Manuel Fernández, a friend of the Pope, now Cardinal and who occupies the position held for many years by the eminent theologian Joseph Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI. In a little more than eight months, Mestre was emerging as an Archbishop who was going to do what Fernandez did not do. I know what I am talking about: I was Archbishop of La Plata for two decades. The view I cast on the case is not only ecclesiastical, but also political.

Abp. Mestre, in a very sincere and heartfelt letter, recounts the situation, the oddity that has victimized him: “In the Eternal City, after confronting some different perceptions with what has happened in the Diocese of Mar del Plata since November 2023 until today, Pope Francis asked me to resign from the See of Mar del Plata. With deep peace and total rectitude of conscience before God for how I acted, trusting that the Truth sets 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 (May 27, 2024)”. The strange or odd thing is that he seems to be separated from the Archbishopric because of what happened in Mar del Plata when Mestre was the Bishop. Were they wrong, then, to promote him? To the Roman dissimulation, which has deep roots, now is added the Jesuit habit: this false discretion gives rise to hasty suspicion, which usually has two subjects: financial or sexual problems. I would like to know if Cardinal Fernandez, who as I said is a friend of the Pontiff, has had anything to do with this crazy affair. Bishops are Successors of the Apostles, they cannot be treated like school children. “The Truth sets us free”; the now former Archbishop is right. Rome has become Argentinized, to the disgrace of the Argentines, and darkens freedom, which is a gift from God.

On another occasion, I mentioned the relationship between Peter and Paul; filial obedience requires a paternity that is sincere and respects fraternity. Paul recognized Peter's authority, but Peter, in turn, recognized the singular vocation that the Apostle to the nations received from the Risen One. Herein lies the issue, and not in the disguise of the much-vaunted “synodality”. The priests and other faithful of La Plata deserve an explanation. Monsignor Mestre has sentimentally said: “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 today I cannot finish deciphering. I trust in the Lord because Christ is our Peace (Eph 2:14)! Very fair words; God, who allows evil, has plans that surpass us immensely. In these plans there is room for oddities.

Let us remember that Monsignor Gabriel Mestre has been a Bishop since 2017; a biblical scholar and professor, well prepared for the Providential task in which the miter carries within it a crown of thorns. He would have been a great Archbishop. I note that his episcopal motto reads “Jesus Christ is our Peace”. He has given us a good example by accepting arbitrariness in peace. But the authors of oddities I do not think they can enjoy that Peace.