Lightning strikes twice in an Argentine diocese
What on earth is happening in the Diocese of Mar del Plata, Argentina?
Last November, Pope Francis named Bishop José Maria Balina, an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, to become the new Bishop of Mar del Plata. But 22 days later, before he was even installed as head of the diocese, Bishop Balina resigned. That’s very unusual.
So the Pope quickly named Bishop Gustavo Larrazabal, an auxiliary in San Juan de Cuyo, to become Bishop of Mar del Plata. Five weeks later— again, before he was installed— Bishop Larrazabal has resigned. That’s not just unusual; it’s astonishing— like being struck by lightning twice.
So what’s going on in Mar del Plata? Is there some reason why, as the date of their installation has approached, these two prelates have bowed out?
In the first case, Bishop Balina had recently undergone surgery for a detached retina, and faced another operation early this year. He “realized that I was not in a position to take on the mission” in Mar del Plata, he said at the time. The 65-year-old bishop is currently without an episcopal assignment, as we awaits another surgical procedure.
Bishop Larrazabal, who is 62, offered no explanation for his resignation, apart from saying that “I have concluded that it is not opportune” to take on the assignment. He will continue to serve in his current capacity as an auxiliary in San Juan de Cuyo. But there’s a bit more to the story.
Earlier this month, the office of the apostolic nuncio in Argentina released a statement expressing “full confidence” in Bishop Larrazabal in the face of “rumors that circulate and have no basis.” No further information was provided, but secular media outlets have reported that the bishop faced accusations of harassment, brought by a woman who had worked with him some years earlier. Perhaps the bishop, or the Vatican, or both had concluded that the allegations, true or false, would detract from his ability to lead the Mar del Plata diocese effectively.
When Bishop Balina backed out of his installation, Pope Francis appointed a replacement immediately. The second time around, the Pope has named an apostolic administrator, to lead the Mar del Plata diocese temporarily, until a new bishop is named. My guess is that the administrator will be in place for a good long while, because the Vatican will want to do some serious background checking— of episcopal candidates and of the diocese itself— before risking a third strike.
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