By NICOLE WINFIELD
December 6, 2021
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis said Monday he accepted the resignation of the archbishop of Paris because the monsignor could no longer govern effectively thanks to the “gossip” about his relationship with a woman a decade ago.
Francis was asked en route home from Greece about the surprise decision, which came only days after Archbishop Michel Aupetit put his fate in Francis’ hands following French media reports about what he said was an “ambiguous” relationship with a woman.
French media reports also cited governance problems as a possible reason underlying Francis’ decision.
Responding to a question from a French reporter, Francis said there had been some “lapses” with Aupetit involving sexual sins. But he said they weren’t even that serious and only involved “some caresses and massages.” He added, that regardless, everyone is a sinner, including the pope himself.
But Francis said the comments that had ensued made it impossible for Aupetit to continue governing effectively. “We’re all sinners. When the gossip grows and grows and removes someone’s good name, he cannot govern,” Francis said.
“This is an injustice,” Francis added. “That’s why I accepted resignation of Aupetit: not on altar of truth but on the altar of hypocrisy.”
Aupetit offered to resign last month after Le Point magazine said he had a consensual, intimate relationship with a woman. The report relied on several anonymous sources who said they had seen a 2012 email Aupetit sent by mistake to his secretary.
Aupetit denied being the author of the email and told Le Point that he didn’t have intimate and sexual relations with the woman.
Francis accepted the resignation almost immediately, with the Vatican announcing it while the pope was flying to Cyprus on Dec. 2. Aupetit was 70, five years shy of the normal retirement age for bishops.
Aupetit said in a statement that day that he had offered to step down “to preserve the diocese from the division that suspicion and loss of trust are continuing to provoke.”
Francis was also asked about the devastating results of a French inquiry into cases of clergy sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church. The independent study estimated some 330,000 children overall were victims of sexual abuse linked to the church from 1950-2020. The inquiry’s methodology has been questioned, however, since the data was based on projections, not just files.
Francis said he hadn’t read the report but he stressed that with any such historical evaluation, it must be interpreted through the prism of the period under study. He said for the church and the question of clergy sexual abuse decades ago, that meant recalling that it was common for all abuses to be covered up, within families, the church and society at large.