Once More, With Conviction
I couldn’t respect Pope Francis more for his heart for the poor. And like you, I love his jocular, down-to-earth style.
Yet I find his wisdom on sexual pastoral matters as clear as mud.
Early this month, Francis let go of Archbishop Aupetit--leader of France’s most important diocese—due to the Parisian’s alleged boundary-crossing with a female aide.
We don’t know its meaning. Talking to a reporter about what he doesn’t know, the pope claims that he accepted his resignation due to ‘gossip’, which muddled the archbishop’s capacity to lead. (Aupetit denies sex with her but admits lacking wisdom in cultivating some variant on inordinate affection.) Though claiming uncertainty as to what happened between the two, Francis dismissed his ‘sins’ as misdemeanors, not felonies, hypothesizing to the reporter that ‘the caresses and small massages’ Aupetit gave her aren’t that big of a deal. We insist our bishops be saints, lamented the pope to the reporter, not human beings like you and me.
Confused? I was, and am.
First question: what happened? Please clarify. It is possible to do so while protecting the dignity of two people. If holy boundaries were broken, then admit it as fact, not innuendo. And acknowledge that such ‘blurring’ violates a priest’s vow of celibacy and a boss’ use of power (by romancing an employee.)
Second question: what about the woman? How is she being cared for in all this? She is the weakest link in this chain and needs special care and attention. When priests mess around, the woman’s well-being shatters far more than his.
Third question: if Aupetit is repentant, then why dismiss him? Let’s finally witness a scenario in which a man is disciplined and supervised unto restoration. How refreshing to witness a churchman modelling repentance, the Church exercising discipline, and lives being restored rather than scandalized. When the latter, clergy with something to hide are quietly encouraged to stay hidden.
Fourth question: Pope Francis, why did you reinforce the gossip surrounding Aupetit by conceding to it? Have you not sacrificed him on the altar of man’s traditions, not God’s?
I want to trust our Church; that is encouraged when we witness trustworthy handling of clerical sexual failures. I don’t see that here. We can do better.
And Pope Francis, please don’t obscure the issue with platitudes like ‘we need our bishops to be saints’, ‘who I am to judge’? etc. The heart of the matter is our hearts, the lay faithful, who need to know that the human weaknesses we all share need not become strongholds of wickedness in the Church (whether that be gossip or misuse of another’s dignity.) That involves a clear witness from a Church that faces her failures with wisdom and dignity.