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(LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis has defended the former Archbishop of Paris, who resigned 11 days ago after allegations of having an intimate relationship with a woman, saying that he had only accepted the resignation “not on the altar of truth but on the altar of hypocrisy.”

Speaking to Vatican-approved reporters on the flight from Greece to Rome, Pope Francis fielded questions on the resignation of Archbishop Michel Aupetit, whose November 26 resignation was swiftly accepted by the Pope on December 2, but seemingly only because Aupetit had “lost his reputation … because of people’s chatter,” but not due to the nature of the allegations themselves.

“I ask myself what he did that was so serious that he had to resign. Someone answer me, what did he do? And if we do not know the charge we cannot convict,” said Francis.

Archbishop Aupetit offered his resignation after French weekly Le Point accused him of having had an intimate relationship with an adult woman in 2012, based on an email in which the nature of the intimate relationship was revealed. Aupetit had originally intended to keep his resignation secret, in order to allow the Pope to decide whether to accept it or not “in total freedom.”

Aupetit rejected the accusations, saying that while he did not have a physical affair with the woman, he may have had “an ambiguous attitude” that suggested “the existence” of an “intimate relationship and sexual acts.” However, sources of Le Point and LifeSiteNews confirmed that the episode did occur.

On his return flight to Rome, the Pontiff appeared to rebuke both the media and Catholics outraged at the alleged breach of clerical celibacy, saying that Aupetit had been seemingly condemned only by “public opinion, chatter.”

As for the allegations of immorality, the Pope downplayed the seriousness of any alleged relationship, admitting that while the alleged episode was a sin, it was not serious: “It was a failing against the sixth commandment, but not total, of small caresses and massages that he did to the secretary.”

“This is a sin, but it is not of the most serious sins, because the sins of the flesh are not the most serious,” he continued.

“The most serious are those” relating to “pride, hatred,” added the Pope, before aligning himself personally with the former archbishop and attacking Catholics for not accepting “a sinful bishop.”

“Therefore, Aupetit is a sinner, as am I … Perhaps, as Peter was, the bishop on whom Jesus Christ founded the Church. How come the community of that time accepted a sinful bishop, one that had sinned with much ‘angelcality,’ as it was to deny Christ!”

He described the early Church as being “a normal Church, it was used to feeling that it was always sinful, everyone. It was a humble Church.” In contrast, Francis criticized the Church of today, saying that “our Church is not used to having a sinful bishop.”

“We pretend to say: ‘My bishop is a saint’. No! this little red cap…we are all sinners.”

Reporting on Appetite’s resignation, LifeSiteNews’ Jeanne Smits had noted that the speed with which it was accepted by the pontiff lent credence to the veracity of the alleged relationship. In contrast, La Croix suggested that this explanation was “quite unlikely.”

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Seeming to confirm that the Vatican had known of the allegations surrounding Aupetit, La Croix hinted that the speedy acceptance of the resignation was due to the obvious problems Aupetit had with his diocesan clergy that culminated in two vicar generals stepping down during the past few months.

But referencing “chatter” or gossip, Francis suggested that such was the only reason why the archbishop had been forced to resign, rather than the details of his alleged breach of clerical celibacy.

“But when the chatter grows, grows, grows and takes away a person’s fame; no, he will not be able to govern because he has lost his reputation. Not because of his sin, which is sin — like Peter’s, like mine, like yours — but because of people’s chatter.”

“That is why I accepted the resignation, not on the altar of truth but on the altar of hypocrisy,” added the Pope.

The Pope’s in-flight comments have already caused consternation among Catholics, with Catholic Ordinariate priest Fr. David Palmer pointing to a Scriptural verse, saying, “Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin that a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18).

Commenting on the interview, Michael Hichborn, founder and president of the Lepanto Institute, likened the Pope to an abuser, saying that “an abuser is one who blames the victim for the abuser’s conviction and punishments. If Pope Francis is concerned about a fair trial for the archbishop, then he should grant one.”

“But by simply accepting Abp. Aupetit’s resignation, he closes off the possibility of a clerical trial while casting shade on the victims,” Hichborn told LifeSiteNews.

“Pope Francis claimed that ‘sins of the flesh are not the most serious,’ giving the impression that what the archbishop is said to have done is not that big a deal,” added Hichborn. “It would do him well to remember the words of St. Jacinta of Fatima that ‘the sins which cause the most souls to go to Hell are the sins of the flesh.’”

Author and catechist Deacon Nick Donnelly told LifeSiteNews that the pontiff was correcting the faithful rather than Archbishop Aupetit. “It appears that Pope Francis blames people for ‘gossiping’ about Archbishop Aupetit’s sexual sin, rather than the prelate for breaking the sixth commandment.”

“He even goes so far as to make the erroneous claim that sins of the flesh are not the most serious, which is totally contrary to sacred Scripture. St. Paul writes, ‘Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…’ (I Corinthian 6:18-19).”

“It’s also incomprehensible that Pope Francis ignores the gravity of a bishop committing sexual sins,” continued Donnelly. “As Lumen Gentium puts it, bishops receive the ‘fullness of priesthood’ and as such have been given the grace and responsibility of ‘promoting greater holiness in the Church by their daily example, having become a pattern for their flock’ (Lumen Gentium, 41). Why can’t Pope Francis bring himself to say this?”


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