You would think that after the Padre Alberto affair, priests would learn that it's risky to take your secret lover to the beach. Not (ex) Mons. Fernando Bargalló. Last week, Bargalló, who in 1997 was designated the first bishop of Merlo-Moreno in Argentina, became the latest casualty of photos published of himself cavorting on the beach at a luxury resort in Mexico, with a woman whom he first described as a childhood friend and then admitted was his lover.
Thus a promising 34-year career as a priest -- 18 of them as a bishop, first in Irina and Moron and then of Merlo-Moreno -- came to end as Bargalló submitted his resignation to the papal nuncio to Argentina. Bargalló was also president of Caritas for the Latin American and Carribbean region, a post to which he was elected in 2007. Some sources have suggested that, as one of the younger bishops, he might even have been in line to be the next Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
The couple are evenly matched in age -- he is 57 and she, 55, income, and social status. The woman is María de las Victorias Martínez Bo, long divorced from her physician husband and mother of three children. She is a co-founder and owner of the stylish Jolie Bistro restaurant. Mons. Bargalló performed her wedding and baptized her three children. In fact the couple were friends during childhood and adolescence since their families both owned vacation homes in La Cumbre. They separated only when Bargalló decided to carry on the family tradition of having a priest in each generation and entered seminary.
Although having a vow of poverty as a priest, Bargalló was also independently wealthy as a result of a substantial inheritance following the death of his mother. It is thought that he used these funds to subsidize his romance with Martínez Bo.
According to the newspaper Crónica, the couple took great pains to conceal their romance and the Mexican getaway that resulted in the photos. They took separate flights to the United States and met there before travelling together, first to Mexico City and then to other vacation destinations. They also returned on separate flights.
Immediately after the compromising photos became public, Bargalló issued a terse communiqué in which he apologized for any harm the photos might have caused and reiterated his commitment to the priesthood: "I also want to clearly state that I am completely committed to God and to the Church in the mission that has been entrusted to me in this beloved Diocese of Merlo-Moreno and in the other responsibilities at the service of my brothers and sisters. I have deep feelings for my priesthood and dedication to Jesus the Lord and I want to persevere in it to the end."
In spite of these words, in the end, Bargalló became the second Argentine bishop after the late Jerónimo Podestá to step down because of a woman. Podestá and his wife became active and respected in the Latin American Federation of Married Catholic Priests. We can only hope that Bargalló and Martínez Bo will follow in their footsteps as they put this scandalous beginning behind them and live their love openly.