French archbishop quit over reputation damage: pope

Pope Francis said Monday that Michel Aupetit, the archbishop of Paris who resigned over his “ambiguous” relationship with a woman, had to leave as his reputation was in tatters.

“When the gossip grows, grows, grows and takes away the reputation of a person, that man will not be able to govern… and that is an injustice,” the pontiff told reporters onboard his flight back from a trip to Greece and Cyprus.

“This is why I accepted Aupetit’s resignation, not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy.”

Aupetit, 70, offered to step down last month following media reports of an intimate relationship with a woman, which he had categorically denied.

A diocese spokeswoman said at the time that “he had ambiguous behaviour with a person he was very close to”, adding that it was “not a loving relationship”, nor sexual.

The offer to resign was “not a confession of guilt, but a humble gesture, an offer of dialogue”, she added.

“I ask myself, what did Aupetit do that was so serious he had to resign? If we don’t know the accusation, we cannot condemn,” the pope said, urging journalists to investigate.

He said Aupetit had been condemned by “public opinion, rumours. But what did he do? We know nothing”.

However, the pope referenced a breach of the sixth commandment — a ban on adultery — saying it was “not total, but little caresses and massages he gave to his secretary”.

“That is a sin. But it is not the most serious because sins of the flesh are not the most serious,” he said.

He added: “Aupetit is a sinner. As I am, as was Peter, the bishop on whom Christ founded his Church.”

In a statement last week, when the pope accepted his offer, Aupetit said he wanted to “protect the diocese from the division that always provokes suspicion and the loss of confidence”.

His departure comes at a sensitive time for the French Catholic Church, which is reeling from the publication in October of a devastating report by an independent commission that estimated Catholic clergy had abused 216,000 children since 1950.

Dealing with the avalanche of revelations about sexual abuse by priests was one of the biggest challenges that Francis faced when he was elected pope in 2013.