The surprise resignation of a prominent vicar general has shed light on tensions within the Paris archdiocese hierarchy, reportedly due to differences with Archbishop Michel Aupetit’s style of leadership.
Mgr Benoist de Sinety, 53, who became nationally known for the moving funeral Mass he led for the French rock star legend Johnny Hallyday in 2017, announced on 30 March that he would soon leave his job of five years to head a large parish in the northern city of Lille.
His resignation came four months after another vicar general, Mgr Alexis Leproux, 49, also quit after only two years in his post. Both men seemed to be on a career path to bishop and both gave diplomatic explanations for their decision to leave.
Critics quickly pointed to Archbishop Aupetit’s leadership style as the problem. Seen as a popular pastor when he was appointed in 2017, he was reported to be difficult with his staff, giving them much of the administration of France’s leading archdiocese.
“His nomination to Paris was a ‘casting’ error,” the daily Libération said in one of several analyses in Paris newspapers. “Many fault Archbishop Aupetit for his authoritarian style, his lack of listening and his focus on bioethics issues.”
Archbishop Aupetit denied the reports on Monday. “Many vicars general resign and ask to go back to work on the ground,” he told France Inter radio. “I don't think there are any problems. If there are, then show me.”
Previously bishop of the Paris suburb of Nanterre, Aupetit was a physician for 11 years before entering the seminary. He was a popular cleric in Paris but a surprise pick for the top post.
Sinety, who used to say he was “hopelessly Parisian”, was secretary to the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger and parish priest of the iconic Left Bank church of St. Germain des Prés. Son of an aristocratic family that lost its fortune, the man Le Mondecalled “the pastor of VIPs” both frequented the rich and famous and defended marginalised minorities.
As vicar general, his many tasks included care for migrants, representing the Church in the reconstruction of Notre Dame cathedral and overseeing the experimental parish council of St Merry that Aupetit abruptly cancelled last month. Some think that decision was the final straw for him.
In the official announcement, Archbishop Aupetit praised Sinety for his service “despite the austerity of the task”. The departing vicar general said he “tried to serve as he could”.
Aupetit, who occasionally holds limited liturgies in Notre Dame to stress its role as a house of prayer, washed the feet of four men and two women on Holy Thursday.
Three vicars general, all auxiliary bishops, remain in the archdiocese. Leproux is a trained Biblical scholar and teaches at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris.