PARIS — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the archbishop of Paris after he admitted to an “ambiguous” relationship with a woman in 2012.
Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit said in a statement 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 in the archbishop’s place.
The resignation comes amid great upheaval in the French Catholic Church. A shocking report in October found some 3,000 French priests had committed sexual abuse over the past 70 years, and last year, the pope accepted the resignation of a French cardinal 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 the resignation, much less why the decision had come so quickly. Previously, Francis has taken his time discerning whether to accept a resignation that was offered as a result of scandal, such as amid allegations of covering up clergy sexual abuse cases. And in many of those cases, he has rejected the offer outright and told the bishop to remain on.
The timing of the announcement was also unusual as it came as the pope and the Vatican hierarchy were en route to Cyprus at the start of a five-day trip. French journalists travelling with the pope lamented that any interest in the Cyprus-Greece trip had been completely overtaken by the scandal in the church at home.
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 didn’t have sexual relations with the woman.
The article in Le Point relied on several anonymous sources who said they had seen a 2012 e-mail Aupetit sent by mistake to his secretary. Aupetit denied being the author of the email.
Catholic clerics make a promise to be celibate. 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.
The pope has refused to accept resignations from other prelates caught up in scandals that many would see as more egregious..
The former archbishop of the French city of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, offered to resign in 2019 after a French court convicted him of failing to report a pedophile priest. Francis initially refused Barbarin’s offer, but accepted it more than a year later.
More recently, 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. Francis refused to accept it and Marx remains in office.