“Since the beginning of the week, we have seen a tragedy unfolding, the outcome of which we have the impression that the outcome is inevitable … But whatever it is, whether the Pope accepts his resignation or not, it is all sad . We needed everything but that. “ Among « choc » and “Feeling of weariness”, Father Bruno Lefevre-Pontalis, parish priest of Saint-François-Xavier parish, learned this Friday, November 26, like the other priests of the diocese of Paris, that their archbishop had handed over his office to Pope Francis. For several days, Bishop Michel Aupetit had been the target of a series of articles questioning both his governance and his private life.
The main salvo came from the Point which broadcast, from Monday, November 22, an investigation combining several complex cases managed in recent months “Brutally”, according to the weekly – the closure of the pastoral center of Saint-Merry, the dismissal of the director of Saint-Jean de Passy -, but also the resignation in quick succession of his two vicars general – Father Alexis Leproux in December 2020 and the Father Benoist de Sinety in March 2021 – as well as a much older episode, dating back to 2012, when he himself was Vicar General of the diocese, and dealing with his private life. Referring to an email he allegedly sent by mistake to his former secretary, the weekly claims that Bishop Aupetit allegedly had an affair with a woman “Consenting adult”…
The archbishop had defended himself by explaining that a woman had left «manifested to me many times through visits, letters, etc., to such an extent that I sometimes had to make arrangements to put some distance between us ”. He recognized, however: “My behavior towards her could have been ambiguous, thus suggesting the existence between us of an intimate relationship and sexual relations, which I strongly refute. (…) I decided not to see her again and I informed her. ” He also added that he had mentioned this “Old situation” with his vicars general in the spring of 2020, and that he had “Warned the authorities of the Church”. Could this affair be the cause of the departure of Fathers Leproux and Sinety? Both refused to answer.
Still, the day after the publication on social networks of the article of Point, a presbyteral council was summoned urgently on Tuesday 23 November. According to a Parisian priest, Mgr Aupetit would have been summoned by his priests to justify himself. “The Archbishop is much loved and he has been defended”, denies a participant. Under the shock, the entourage of Mgr Aupetit sees it as “A cabal”, a “Stunt to destroy the archbishop”, “From facts in the conditional”. “This is called an online execution, a dependent investigation”, deplores a source close to the archbishop.More widely, in the Parisian clergy, anger prevailed against the media methods employed: “Under the pretext that he is a priest, he would no longer have any right to privacy?” What country are we in? It seems to me totally abnormal to hold a public trial for something hypothetical, which moreover is neither criminal nor prohibited and does not even constitute an offense in canon law ”, regrets a Parisian priest, without wanting to defend hypothetical deviations from the commitment of priests to celibacy.“I don’t find it very fair to pillory him, underlines for her part a lay woman committed in the diocese. I could sometimes reproach him for his casualness but I discovered a man of faith, close to people and who delegates a lot. ” She assures that she is not interested in “The story he could have had”. « And even if the facts are true … in view of the abuses revealed elsewhere in the Church, it is rather reassuring to know that they would have taken place with a consenting adult, she confides. Many priests in their ministry may have had more difficult times than others. “
Among the few faithful interviewed at the end of mass, Sunday, November 28, sadness seemed to prevail over anger. While some now doubt his authority and his credibility, others hope that the Pope will keep him in office, but with “a concern for pedagogy” so as not to stir up divisions.The archbishop himself confided to The cross, Friday, that he had received many messages of support. Bruno Lefevre-Pontalis, who was vicar general with Mgr Aupetit, confirms as he thinks “A lot to him, because it’s a humiliation, a huge ordeal, with serious decisions to be made. His decision shows his strength of character and a certain form of freedom. What matters in his eyes is really the good of the diocese. “
Priests and faithful do not fail to wonder: who benefits from this great unpacking? “Why get this information out now?” And who takes it out?, asks a priest. This article from Point simply reveals that there is a coalition of reactionary forces from all walks of life, such as the traditionalists, the disappointed of Saint-Jean de Passy, and on the other side those of Saint-Merry. They all want the Archbishop’s skin.»
Conversely, these press articles met with an echo among a certain number of priests or officials, who criticize its governance. These deplore an archbishop “Rigid”, “not very diplomatic in his management”, who “Don’t listen to anyone”, even governs “Brutally”. “It will be very hard, at the height of the harshness of the Archbishop with his clergy, one of them reacts. Everyone can have a moment of bewilderment in his life, but it is above all the harshness with which he treats the same errors in others that turn against him. “
For them, this crisis expresses a deeper unease in the diocese. “For me, the inflection point was the departure of the two vicars general, analyzes a lay observer of the diocese. They are heavyweights who brought a lot to the life of the diocese. It is not the first time for an Archbishop to make decisions that are not popular. Lustiger in his day was brittle… You have to be a boss in Paris, that’s part of the job. But that he no longer has the confidence of his vicars general, it is more annoying. “ Either way, suspicions about his private life, which have taken precedence over the rest, raise the question of his ability to govern now. “The question of suitability for this office had arisen with the departure of the vicars general, recalls a priest. His relative sluggishness after the Ciase report had raised questions. Even if we had understood well that it was not a Lustiger, that he preferred a pastoral care of proximity, there was a form of disappointment vis-a-vis a lack of direction, of perspective, of relief… But – and it is which I find dreadful – even if the Pope does not accept his decision, what word will he now be able to say? How to bounce back? This case will leave traces. Such a waste… “