CNA Newsroom, Jan 4, 2023 / 15:50 pm (CNA).
The former archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, is reportedly under preliminary investigation for sexual assault on a vulnerable person, according to a report from the Archdiocese of Paris in late November 2022, French news channel BFMTV reported.
According to the TV channel’s report, the allegations date back to 2011 and concern a vulnerable former parishioner, subject to a judicial protection measure. Aupetit is suspected of having exchanged sexual emails with this parishioner, who suffers from a “slight mental deficiency.”
The investigations opened by the Paris prosecutor’s office have been entrusted to the French Brigade of Repression of Delinquency People. For the moment, neither the former archbishop nor the alleged victim — who has not filed any complaint — have been heard from by the police.
In a statement issued on the evening of Jan. 3, the Archdiocese of Paris said it was not “able to verify whether the facts in question were proven, nor if they constituted an offense.”
“The report — which did not involve the classification of sexual assault — has been made” so that “all the necessary verifications can be carried out by the justice,” the archdiocese added.
Interviewed by the daily newspaper Le Monde following publication of the news, Aupetit’s lawyer, Jean Reinhart, stressed that he had learned through the press that a report had been made by the archdiocese. He said that the bishopric had never questioned him on this point.
“[My client] is therefore even more surprised to learn that the Paris public prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation of which he knew nothing,” he said, adding that he had no idea who this woman could be, “no one having ever complained of the slightest inappropriate gesture on his part.”
On the morning of Jan. 4, Reinhart told the public radio station France Inter that the 71-year-old former archbishop remained “serene,” although “surprised and outraged,” and that he would “continue his pastoral mission from which nothing will divert him.”
This case comes a year after Aupetit resigned as archbishop of Paris after an article by the weekly magazine Le Point questioned his governance methods and suggested he had an affair with a woman in 2012 when he was vicar general of the Archdiocese of Paris.
Aupetit, who firmly denied any intimate relationship with the woman in question, claimed to have resigned in order to “preserve his archdiocese from division.” Pope Francis then specified during an in-flight press conference that he had accepted Aupetit’s resignation “not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy,” because the “gossip” “took away his reputation.”
For those close to Aupetit, these accusations amount to an attempted social media lynching in order to definitively disqualify his voice on societal issues. Aupetit is known for his orthodox views on issues related to bioethics and the family and has been a vocal opponent of abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage.
Father Michel Viot, a priest in charge of the pastoral care of funerals and mourning at the Archdiocese of Paris since 2018, in an interview with CNA stressed that the former archbishop, who used to be a doctor before becoming a priest, has been an influential voice in debates over social issues.
Viot said that he played a key role in the Matignon Forum, an annual meeting between representatives of the Catholic Church in France and some key politicians and members of the government to discuss major current issues.
“On all bioethical issues, especially on the end of life, Aupetit has always been extremely clear, and while debates are being held in France in order to legalize euthanasia, he remained a dangerous man, even though he was already removed from the Archdiocese of Paris, because he still had the trust of many people, including the pope,” Viot said.
Since leaving the Archdiocese of Paris, Aupetit — who has been reportedly living in the south of France with a community welcoming vulnerable people — has remained very active on his Twitter account, where he has continued to outspokenly denounce the excesses of today’s society.
Aupetit has included Christians in his denunciations, saying that some have become mere “shopkeepers,” satisfied with “comfortable, clientelistic interiors,” or even “weathervanes.” He has also consistently denounced the practice of euthanasia as an “abuse” that is contrary to the Hippocratic Oath.
BFMTV also mentioned the fact that Aupetit was soon to return to Paris to discuss a possible assignment as a priest with the archdiocese.
According to Father Viot, the timing of the accusations in the press against the former archbishop, since the facts date back some 10 years, is no accident. He sees in it a concerted attack from certain members of the Church who favor an evolution of Catholic dogma on bioethical questions and the political and media world.
“The secrecy of the investigation is never broken on the side of the police but always on the side of the magistrates, who are more politicized. The fact that the information was leaked on BFMTV, often accused of being close to French President Emmanuel Macron, is also important,” Viot said.
He added that he is convinced the investigation “will lead nowhere” but fears the exposure in the press will have served to “further sully the reputation of a man who is considered a nuisance.”
“I know the French political and judicial system very well, having been a prison chaplain for 10 years,” he continued. “I know the usual delays of the public prosecutor’s office in unraveling these cases of sexual assault, in particular on people who are not in their right mind, who are under curatorship. It takes a lot of time and requires a lot of precautions. Hence the importance of secrecy and of the presumption of innocence.”