06 December 2021, The Tablet

Pope explains why he accepted Aupetit resignation

Pope explains why he accepted Aupetit resignation

Pope Francis holds a model of Greece's Parthenon after answering questions from journalists aboard his flight from Athens to Rome.
CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of the Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit because of mounting accusations against him, he said on the flight home from Greece to Rome. 

“When the chatter grows, grows, grows,” he told journalists, “he will not be able to govern because he has lost his reputation … That is why I accepted his resignation.”

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit after only a week amid turbulence in the French Catholic Church. It was a surprisingly rapid response from a pontiff who usually waits for months before responding to such an offer and then often rejects it.

The speed of this decision, announced on 2 December without a new task for the 70-year-old archbishop, suggested the Vatican wanted to stop any new dispute while it was still struggling with a larger uproar over a shocking sexual abuse scandal reported two months ago.

As apostolic administrator, the Pope named retired Marseille Archbishop Georges Pontier, a former head of the bishops conference known as an experienced man of dialogue.

That offered a contrast to Aupetit, who offered in late November to resign after the weekly Le Point accused him of managing staff brusquely and taking isolated and controversial decisions. It also said he had an intimate relationship with a woman a decade ago, which he denied.

Pope Francis said Aupetit had apparently hugged and massaged a secretary, which he said was a sin but not very serious. “Aupetit is a sinner, as am I,” he said, adding the early Church was more used to this idea than Catholicism now. 

Aupetit apparently expected more time and support from the pontiff, who has shown less decisiveness in other abuse cases.

Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin’s resignation was not accepted for a year while he defended himself successfully against civil charges of covering up for a serial abuser priest.

In the Cologne archdiocese also struggling with accusations of an abuse coverup, Cardinal Rainer Woelki has been given a six-month “time out” to reconsider his mission and Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Hesse, a former Cologne vicar general, has returned to work after a similar sabbatical.

It took only a month for Pope Francis to reject a resignation offer from Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who cited an overall moral responsibility of the Church for sexual abuse cases as his reason.

Aupetit, a former medical doctor who critics said failed to grow into the Paris role, was accused by Le Point of “scathing ways (and) singular lack of listening and empathy”. Controversial decisions included the abrupt shutting of an experimental parish and the firing of a Catholic school principal.

Red lights started blinking in March 2021 after Mgr Benoist de Sinety left for Lille, the second vicar general to quit in four months. Reports said Aupetit had ignored and humiliated the popular vicar and Rome began thinking the archbishop should be transferred to another post.

The Catholic weekly Famille Chrétienne said the two vicars general also quit because his ambiguous way of denying the reported affair did not convince them.

While a decade-old affair alone might not fell a prelate, it emerged amid his other controversies and the report of 330,000 cases of sexual abuse of minors in the French Church since 1950, two-thirds of them by priests.

The respected theologian Anne Soupa pointed out a disconnect. “For a disciplinary problem of a liaison with a woman, an archbishop resigns in three days,” she said. “And for crimes committed against children, no bishop has resigned in France.”

Isabelle de Gaulmyn, senior editor at La Croix, noted that France’s leading archbishop was silent after the report was published but would have to apply its findings, including selling Church property to compensate victims. “There are some very complicated things to do in future and, in his situation, he would have difficulty staying on,” she said even before the Pope accepted Aupetit’s resignation.

Front-runner to move to Paris, which requires more political savvy and presence than Aupetit showed, is Reims Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, now head of the bishops conference. He has proven capable in that post but would probably have to give it up if he were named. Other candidates being mentioned are archbishops in Rouen, Marseille and Strasbourg. It remains to be seen if Pope Francis fills the Paris post as quickly as he vacated it.

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