Pope Francis speaks during an in-flight press conference on the journey from Athens to Rome, Dec. 6, 2021. / Vatican Media.
Rome Newsroom, Dec 6, 2021 / 07:21 am (CNA).
On the papal plane on Monday, Pope Francis said that he accepted the resignation of Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris “not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy.”
Answering questions aboard his return flight from Athens, Greece, to Rome on Dec. 6, the pope said that the archbishop of Paris stepped down because he had “lost his reputation so publicly.”
Pope Francis told reporters that Catholics today “are not used to having a sinful bishop.”
“We pretend to say my bishop is a saint,” he said.
“The gossip grows, grows, grows and takes away the reputation of the person. He will not be able to speak because he has lost the reputation … and this is an injustice and that is why I accepted Aupetit’s resignation not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy,” Pope Francis said.
Aupetit had asked the pope to decide whether he should remain in his post after a report in the French weekly magazine Le Point on Nov. 22 raised concerns about Aupetit’s contacts with a woman dating back to 2012, when he was vicar general of Paris archdiocese.
Aupetit said that he had written to the pope at the end of November out of a concern to preserve the unity of his archdiocese after Le Point had portrayed him as an authoritarian and divisive figure.
Pope Francis prays before the icon Salus Populi Romani at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome after returning from Greece, Dec. 6, 2021. Vatican Media.
Discussing Aupetit’s case, Pope Francis said: “I wonder what Aupetit did that was so serious that he had to resign. What did he do? … If we don’t know the accusation, we cannot condemn.”
The pope said that Aupetit was accused of a fault against the sixth commandment, of “small caresses and massages that he gave to the secretary.”
Francis added that this “is a sin, but it is not one of the most serious sins, because the sins of the flesh are not the most serious.”
Aupetit has firmly denied that he had a relationship with the woman in question.
“My behavior towards her may have been ambiguous, thus suggesting the existence between us of an intimate relationship and sexual relations, which I strongly refute … I decided not to see her again and I informed her,” he said to Le Point.
Aupetit told the French Catholic daily La Croix that he had spoken to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, about his situation, as well as to Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the apostolic nuncio to France.
“This is not because of what I should or should not have done in the past — otherwise I would have left a long time ago — but to avoid division, if I myself am a source of division,” Aupetit said.
The pope’s comments during the in-flight press conference came at the end of his five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece.
The Vatican announced that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Aupetit on Dec. 2 as the pope traveled to the divided capital city of Nicosia in Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The 84-year-old pope’s three days in neighboring Greece included meetings with political authorities, Orthodox leaders, the Catholic community, local Jesuits, and migrants on the island of Lesbos. He also celebrated Mass at a concert hall in the capital.
On the flight back to Rome, Pope Francis was also asked about a report which estimated that hundreds of thousands of children were abused in the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years.
In response, Pope Francis said that there was a risk of confusing the way that a problem was perceived 70 years ago with the way it is seen today.
“A historical situation should be interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time, not ours,” he said.
The pope added that he had not read the report, but that he planned to discuss it with the French bishops.
The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) published a nearly 2,500-page final report on Oct. 5, estimating that 216,000 children were abused by priests, deacons, monks, or nuns in France from 1950 to 2020.
It suggested that there were “between 2,900 and 3,200” abusers out of 115,000 clergy and other religious workers, which it noted “would imply a very high number of victims per aggressor.”
The study also said that “more than a third of sexual assaults within the Catholic Church were committed, not by clergy, monks or other religious workers, but by laypersons.”
Members of a French Catholic academy have criticized the report’s methodology, claiming that it lacked “scientific rigor.”
Last month, Catholic bishops in France announced that they have agreed to launch “a vast program of renewal” of governance practices in response to a landmark report on clerical sex abuse.
Aupetit responded to the pope’s decision to accept his resignation in a video message on Dec. 2, saying that he had been “greatly disturbed by the attacks” on him.
He said: “The painful events of the past week, about which I have already spoken, had led me to place my mission in the hands of Pope Francis in order to preserve the archdiocese from the division that suspicion and loss of trust always provoke.”
“I pray for those who may have wished me ill as Christ taught us to do, who helps us beyond our poor strength. I ask forgiveness of those whom I might have hurt and assure you all of my deep friendship and my prayer, which will always be yours,” Aupetit said.