The Vatican announced Thursday that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, after French media alleged the archbishop had an affair with a woman more than a decade ago.
The pope’s decision to accept Aupetit’s resignation could signal a significant shift in the Vatican’s approach to allegations of episcopal misconduct, but the archbishop’s own statements suggest the decision may be linked to his governance of the archdiocese.
The article which appears to have triggered Aupetit’s departure was published last week by the French magazine Le Point. It alleged that Aupetit had engaged in a “consensual, intimate” relationship with a woman in 2012, when he was a priest and vicar general of the archdiocese.
Le Point cited several anonymous sources who claimed to have seen a 2012 email intended to be from the archbishop to the woman but apparently sent to Aupetit’s secretary in error.
The archbishop has denied writing the alleged email, and denies having had a sexual relationship with the unnamed woman.
Instead, Aupetit said last week the relationship was “ambiguous” and open to possible misinterpretation, and he had stopped seeing the woman.
“Those who knew me at the time and who shared my daily life would certainly tell that I was not living a double life, as the article suggests,” the archbishop told the French Catholic radio station Notre Dame.
Speaking shortly after the article was published, Aupetit denounced the article as a “virulent” attack on him. He confirmed that he had consulted with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, about the situation and had left the decision about his future up to Pope Francis, while stressing that he had not used the word “resign” in his communication with the pontiff.
Media coverage has widely credited the pope’s decision to accept Aupetit’s resignation to the report of some kind of relationship with the unnamed woman, despite the archbishop’s insistence that it was never physical.
If the decision was taken by Pope Francis in response to that alleged 2012 relationship, it would signal a change in papal tolerance for episcopal misconduct. Bishops in France, Germany, and the United States have all been left in post by the pope in recent years following scandals related to the handling of clerical sexual abuse.
The pope’s decision could also suggest that a determination of Aupetit’s unfitness for office was based on publicity, rather than any actual misconduct: the archbishop has said publicly that in 2012 he informed his predecessor as Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, about his relationship with the woman.
Vingt-Trois allowed Aupetit, then a priest of the archdiocese, to continue in post as vicar general and, in 2013 put him forward for promotion to auxiliary bishop. Aupetit eventually succeeded Vingt-Trois as archbishop in 2018.
It is the practice of the Congregation for Bishops, in consultation with the apostolic nuncio and the local bishop, to vet carefully the personnel files of candidates for episcopal office.
Unless Vingt-Trois deliberately failed to inform Rome of the situation, both the apostolic nuncio and the Vatican would have been aware of Auptit’s relationship with the woman as early as 2013, and apparently did not consider it an impediment to his promotion to lead one of the most prominent sees in Europe.
Aupetit himself has appeared to confirm this version of events, saying over the weekend that he had informed the appropriate ecclesiastical superiors about the relationship at the time.
The archbishop also said his offer to let Pope Francis decide his future was was not a direct response to "what I would have done or not in the past - otherwise I would have left a long time ago.”
Instead, Aupetit said his concern was “to avoid divisions” in the archdiocese; “that is, I was a source of division,” suggesting instead that the decision to accept his resignation may be linked to criticism of his leadership of the archdiocese.
The Le Point article also cited anonymous sources criticizing the archbishop’s governance of the diocese, characterizing him as autocratic and dictatorial. The anonymous sources pointed to the removal of priests from various pastoral assignments, and to the resignation of some chancery officials in support of their claims.
The archbishop said over the weekend that he had received messages of support from priests and lay Catholics of the archdiocese after the Le Point article and prior to the pope’s decision.
“The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away,” said the archbishop in a video statement, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
"I ask forgiveness of those whom I might have hurt and I assure you all of my deep friendship and my prayer, which will always be yours."
The Vatican also announced that Archbishop Georges Pontier, emeritus of the Archdiocese of Marseille, has been appointed to lead the capital see on an interim basis.