Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the archbishop of Paris, who unexpectedly offered to step down last week after admitting to an “ambiguous” relationship with a woman in 2012.
Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit said in a statement on Thursday that he offered to step down “to preserve the diocese from the division that suspicion and loss of trust are continuing to provoke”.
The Vatican said in a statement that the pope accepted Aupetit’s offer, and named Monsignor Georges Pontier to serve temporarily in his place pending the pontiff’s appointment of a permanent new archbishop.
The resignation comes amid great upheaval in the French Catholic Church. A report in October estimated some 3,000 French priests had committed sexual abuse during the past 70 years. And last year, the pope accepted the resignation of French Roman Catholic Cardinal Philippe Barbarin in connection with the coverup of sexual abuse of dozens of boys by a predatory priest.
The Vatican gave no reason for why Francis had accepted Aupetit’s resignation, or why the decision had come so quickly after it had been offered. French media have additionally pointed to alleged governance problems in the archdiocese, which could have also been an underlying reason behind Francis’ swift decision to remove Aupetit.
Previously, Francis has taken his time considering whether to accept a resignation offered as a result of scandal. In several cases – even ones that many would see as more egregious – he has rejected the offer outright and told the bishop to remain.
In June, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising, offered to resign over the Catholic Church’s “catastrophic” mishandling of clergy sexual abuse cases, though not because he himself was implicated in wrongdoing. Francis refused to accept it and Marx remains in office.
A French activist and former head of La Parole Libre, a group fighting sexual violence in the Catholic Church, strongly criticised the pope for taking swift action in the case of Aupetit.
“Pope Francis is losing all legitimacy by this terrible lack of judgement,” Francois Devaux claimed. “This gentleman should read the Gospel again.
“The pope very recently greeted Cardinal Barbarin who according to him built up the church of France,” he added, a reference to Francis’ recent praise of the cardinal during a visit to Assisi.
Barbarin offered to resign in 2019 after a French court convicted him of failing to report a paedophile priest. Francis initially refused Barbarin’s offer, but accepted it more than a year later – and more than a month after Babrarin’s conviction was overturned on appeal.
The timing of Aupetit’s announcement was unusual as it came as the pope and the Vatican hierarchy were en route to Cyprus at the start of a five-day trip.
Aupetit wrote to Francis offering to resign following a report in Le Point magazine saying he had a consensual, intimate relationship with a woman. Aupetit told Le Point he did not have sexual relations with the woman.
Roman Catholic priests take vows of chastity.
The article in Le Point 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.
At the time of the alleged relationship, Aupetit was a priest in the archdiocese of Paris. He became Paris archbishop in 2018.
“I ask forgiveness of those I could have hurt and assure you all of my deep friendship and my prayers,” Aupetit said in his statement. He said he was “greatly disturbed by the attacks against me”.
In an interview last week with Catholic radio Notre Dame, Aupetit said, “I poorly handled the situation with a person who was in contact many times with me”. Calling it a “mistake,” he said he decided no longer to see the woman after speaking with Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the then-Paris archbishop, in 2012.
Only the pope can hire or fire bishops, or accept their resignations. At 70, Aupetit is five years shy of the normal retirement age for bishops.