The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]
September 21, 2023
By Tom Heneghan
Paris prosecutors have closed a sexual abuse investigation against the former Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit, concluding that charges brought against him by a female parishioner had no foundation.
The accusations, which Archbishop Aupetit has always denied, led to avid speculation about his private life and led Pope Francis unexpectedly to accept his perfunctory offer to resign.
“Mgr Aupetit…was certain that it could only end with no further action being taken. He can continue to act in his pastoral mission without there being any difficulty from now on,” his lawyer Jean Reinhart said.
Since leaving Paris, Aupetit – who was a doctor for 11 years before entering the seminary – has lived in a monastery near Toulouse and worked with groups helping the poor.
The scandal broke in late 2021, when France was reeling from a damning report on widespread clerical sexual abuse going back to 1950.
The Pope said he accepted Aupetit’s resignation because rumours made it impossible for him to govern the archdiocese.
Reports hinted the archbishop, now 72, had a romantic relationship with a younger female theologian. A popular magazine published paparazzi-style photos of them quietly strolling in a forest outside of Paris. Both denied the charges.
But the prosecutors’ investigation, opened after the Paris archdiocese informed them about the charge, focused on accusations of inappropriate behaviour with a fragile woman parishioner a decade earlier.
Aupetit admitted his actions might have been ambiguous but denied it was a sexual relationship. The woman told investigators that no crime had been committed, so the prosecutors closed the case.
Commentators said the real cause for opposition to the prelate was his authoritarian style, which was becoming increasingly public and controversial.
One instance of this was the abrupt closure in 2021 of an experimental parish in central Paris, which Aupetit’s successor, Archbishop Laurent Ulrich, has recently revived with the appointment of a US-born priest to take charge of the reformist congregation.
The former archbishop expelled the parish council from St Merry church, ending the archdiocese’s outreach to fringe Catholics dating back to 1975. The parish leadership continued in borrowed premises, but Ulrich has now announced that they will be given another church in Paris soon.
Oratorian Fr James Cunningham, who had previously served at St Merry before its closure, said of his new congregation: “They held on, courageous and persevering. I admire what they have done, it is a true exercise in synodality.”