Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris, pictured here holding a monstrance while blessing the French capital from the Sacre-Coeur Basilica of Montmartre. CNS photo/Benoit Tessier, ReutersEmbattled Paris archbishop offers to step down
Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris has effectively offered his resignation in a letter to Pope Francis after a magazine reported that he had had an intimate relationship with a woman in 2012.
The report by the weekly Le Point was part of a longer article strongly criticising his leadership of the archdiocese, which it said was in crisis. Aupetit was appointed archbishop in December 2017.
In an interview with the Catholic daily La Croix, Aupetit said he had privately consulted Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation for Bishops, and Paris nuncio Archbishop Celestino Migliore before the Paris newspaper Le Figaro broke the news on Friday afternoon.
“The word ‘resignation’ is not the one I used,” he insisted. “I’ve put (my post) into the hands of the Holy Father… I did it to preserve the diocese, because as a bishop I should serve unity.”
About the reported affair, he said: “My behaviour toward her may have been ambiguous, thus allowing one to assume the existence of an intimate relationship and sexual relations, which I strongly refute.”
He called it “an old situation” that he had discussed with his vicars general in the spring of 2020 and “told Church authorities about”.
The Le Point report also listed several controversial decisions Aupetit had taken, such as the shutting of an experimental parish and the removal of a Catholic school director, and the sudden resignations of two vicars general over the past year.
Asked about this criticism, the archbishop responded by saying he had received numerous messages of support and wondered if there was a campaign to drive him from office.
Le Figaro said Aupetit told his superiors about the woman in 2012. He said she had approached him several times, to the point where he had to take steps to keep his distance from her.
His letter to Pope Francis arrived in Rome on Thursday, it added.
Aupetit’s case adds yet another worry to the French Church still reeling from a report last month estimating 330,000 cases of sexual abuse by clerics and Church workers since 1950 and calling for reforms.
Unnamed critics in Le Point noted that Aupetit, described as divisive and authoritarian, kept a low profile in that discussion.
The Church took another blow last year when a campaign against clerical sexual abuse forced Cardinal Philippe Barbarin to resign as archbishop of Lyon. He delayed for years reporting an admitted abuser priest, was convicted by a civil court for non-disclosure, but acquitted on appeal.
The Aupetit case raised several questions about Church governance in France, including why the hierarchy supported his surprise nomination to the country’s most visible archdiocese if it knew of skeletons in his closet.
His controversial shutting of the experimental Saint Merry centre, a 45-year-old model of lay participation in running a parish, and the surprise resignations of his vicars general – especially the popular Mgr Benoist de Sinety, 53 – came after he had discussed his problems with the two men.
Aupetit, 70, was a medical doctor for 11 years before he entered the seminary and was ordained at 44. He quickly rose in the hierarchy, becoming vicar general of the Paris archdiocese and then bishop of the western suburb of Nanterre, and was not among the favourites to succeed Cardinal André Vingt-Trois.