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Why did the Vatican act so quickly on Archbishop Aupetit?

Pope Francis accepted the Archbishop of Paris’s resignation with alacrity. It is reasonable to ask why.

December 2, 2021 Christopher R. Altieri The Dispatch 4Print

Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris holds a monstrance while blessing the French capital from the Sacre-Coeur Basilica of Montmartre during the COVID-19 pandemic April 9, 2020. The archbishop offered to resign after a newspaper report criticized his management of the archdiocese and accused him of having an affair with a woman in 2012, an accusation he has denied. (CNS photo/Benoit Tessier, Reuters)

Well, the Holy Father turned that one around right quickly. “That” is the resignation of the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, which the Press Office of the Holy See on Thursday told the world Pope Francis has accepted. Francis had Aupetit’s letter late last month, just after Le Point published something between an exposé and an unflattering profile of the Parisian churchman, detailing his strongman governance of the French capital archdiocese and alleging an affair with a woman some years before he became a bishop.

Archbishop Aupetit denied his relationship with the woman was sexual, but called it a “mistake” in a statement and said he offered his resignation “to preserve the diocese from the division that suspicion and loss of trust are continuing to provoke.”

Other churchmen credibly accused of much worse wrongdoing have seen their offers of resignation languish for months and even years. 

From Donald Cardinal Wuerl – who fudged egregiously à propos of what he knew about Uncle Ted McCarrick and when he knew it – to France’s own Primate, Philippe Cardinal Barbarin of Lyon – who admitted to gross mismanagement that amounted to coverup of gruesome serial abuse – and the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Ranier Maria Woelki, and several others in between, Francis has practiced Fabianism, employed double-speak, and complained when he’s had to do anything.

Pope Francis outright refused the resignation of Munich’s Reinhard Cardinal Marx. How Francis’s friendly management of the unfortunate Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta hasn’t been front-and-centersince the story of it broke in 2019 simply defies explanation.

Pope Francis accepted Archbishop Aupetit’s resignation with alacrity. It is reasonable to ask why.

There’s an iota’s difference between a young vicar having a girlfriend back in the day – if that’s what she was – and a bishop assaulting his seminarians or a cardinal covering for priests who rape children, but Francis appears to be less tolerant of the first than he has shown himself to be with the latter two kinds of misbehavior. Perhaps it was the strongman style of governance alleged against Archbishop Aupetit that did him in?

Whatever the reason – the faithful may have a moral right to know the pope’s mind, but ought not hold their breath while waiting for an explanation – accepting Archbishop Aupetit’s resignation was so urgent a matter that the Vatican announced it on the day Pope Francis left on a trip to Cyprus and Greece. 

News of the accepted resignation overtook papal press coverage in France and overshadowed coverage of the trip around the world. One wonders whether the comms geniuses in the Vatican didn’t think it would be the other way around: that the one line in the daily bulletin announcing Francis had accepted Aupetit’s letter should have got buried in news coverage of the papal trip?

“Pope Francis is losing all legitimacy by this terrible lack of judgement,” said the founder of the Lyon-based La Parole Libérée advocacy group, Francois Devaux. “This gentleman should read the Gospel again.”

Also in France this week, members with leadership roles in a major Catholic academy published a critique of the recent independent commission (CIASE) report on abuse and coverup in the French Church over the last seventy years. The signatories complained that the CIASE reporters didn’t stay in their lane, and played fast and loose with methodology to come up with high numbers of victims. 

The report put the numbers in a range running from 165,000 to 270,000 victims of clerics, 265,000 to 396,000 total victims between 1950 and 2020. The numbers of clerical abusers ran from 2,900 to 3,200 over the same period. Experts with whom this journalist has spoken, including sociologists and survivor-advocates, say the number of victims is plausible, but the number of abusers is quite possibly low.

The methodology of the CIASE study deserves scrutiny. The man who led the commission that produced the CIASE report welcomes it. “Criticism of our report is of course legitimate,” CIASE president Jean-Marc Sauvé told France’s La Croix. “I wrote about it in the foreword [to the report],” Sauvé also said, adding that he felt “sadness, and even grief,” at the criticism from the Academie Catholique, of which Sauvé is a member.

The president of the French bishops’ conference, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, resigned from the Academie over the criticism. In a Nov. 29th op-ed in La Croix, Moulins-Beaufort pre-emptively cut through the quibbling over numbers to say that the French bishops understand the victims and the abusers are “too great a number for us to consider this as a marginal phenomenon.”

No French bishop is looking for other work as a result of the CIASE report. The Church in Paris is headless now, after an article in Le Point.

About Christopher R. Altieri 147 ArticlesChristopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.

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I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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