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Papal pressers, growing chatter, and altars of hypocrisy

When it comes to grist for the mill, Pope Francis offered plenty of it in his in-flight remarks en route to Rome from Athens at the end of his weekend visit to Greece and Cyprus.

Pope Francis listens to a question from a journalist aboard his flight from Athens, Greece, to Rome Dec. 6, 2021. The pope was concluding a five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Just when we were thinking we’re all pretty tired of in-flight papal pressers, Pope Francis went and said something. He said a few somethings, in fact, mostly of the pot-stirring variety and in connection with things at best tangentially tied to the trip he’s just concluded to Cyprus and Greece.

In the hard news department, Pope Francis confirmed that he has another meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in the works. “Hilarion,” said Pope Francis, referring to the Moscow Patriarchate’s point man for ecumenical affairs, “will visit me to agree on a possible meeting.”

That’s a big deal, if it happens. Pope Francis met Kirill in Havana in 2016, secured a joint declaration – one that didn’t say much, admittedly – and promised to keep the lines of communication open.

On the one hand, all the talk of ecumenical brotherhood is just that – talk – and after literally a millennium of it, even folks who are members of an institution that thinks in centuries can grow impatient.

On the other hand, “Jaw, Jaw,” is better than “War! War!” roughly as Churchill put it, though when the war has been one of words for a hundred years or so, it’s tough to remember that. Though Pope Francis doesn’t always get credit for it (or govern as though he remembers it), he knows that Western Christianity in its own way has an institutional memory as long as does Eastern Christianity.

However you look at it, there’s something to be said for refusing to disengage from the conversation, such as it is, and letting the Almighty work his work in His good time.

A second meeting with Kirill would be something, indeed. Arguably, it would be more important than the first meeting, even if less spectacular or differently newsworthy.

When it comes to grist for the mill, Pope Francis offered plenty of it in his in-flight remarks en route to Rome from Athens at the end of his weekend visit to Greece and Cyprus, especially regarding the gargantuan kerfuffle in France over the resignation – hastily accepted – of Paris’s Archbishop Michel Aupetit in the wake of an unflattering profile in Le Point alleging Aupetit practiced strongman governance and had an “indiscreet attachment” with a woman some years ago.

“Regarding the Aupetit case,” Pope Francis said, “I ask myself: ‘What did he do that was so serious he had to resign?’ Someone answer me, what did he do? And if we do not know the charge we cannot convict.” Now, that reminded this old Vatican-watcher of Francis’s line on the unfortunate Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, going on three – no – four years ago, now.

After weeks turned into months and stretched over more than a year, Pope Francis continued to support the bishop he’d chosen for the small see in Chile, over the cries of the faithful and the accusations of three survivor-advocates who said Bishop Barros had protected and enabled their abuser.

“The Osorno community is suffering the Pope told a group of pilgrims on the sidelines of a General Audience in May of 2015, “because it’s dumb.” It would take three years and persistent international media scrutiny to get Pope Francis to budge on Bishop Barros.

In 2021, Pope Francis is singing a different tune: “[W]hen the chatter grows, grows, grows and takes away a person’s good name,” said Francis, “he will not be able to govern, because he has lost his reputation.”

It’s not because of Archbishop Aupetit’s alleged transgressions, mind – not even a matter of ascertaining whether the allegations are correct – but “because of people’s chatter,” that Aupetit had to go.

“That is why I accepted the resignation,” Francis said, “not on the altar of truth but on the altar of hypocrisy.” The chatterers’ hypocrisy, one is given to understand.

There’s a pretty straightforward way to deal with such chatter: “Conduct an investigation, OK?”

That’s what Pope Francis said on the plane.

To be perfectly frank, we can debate whether a liaison with a lady back in the day ought to have kept a fellow like Aupetit from rising in the government of the Church, but to hear Francis tell it, the allegations are that Archbishop Aupetit had a “failing on his part, a failing against the sixth commandment, but not total, of small caresses and massages that he did to the secretary.”

“The secretary” may have been a willing player in a game of touch that stopped before any serious moral lapse. Or, she could have been the victim of criminal sexual assault. Either way, it appears Aupetit got handsy with a lady. So, yeah, maybe investigate that?

Also, announce the investigation, publish the report, detail the findings and conclusions.

Memo to Churchmen: When it comes to transparency, you’re doing it wrong.

Pope Francis also told journalists he has yet to read the independent commission report on abuse and coverup in the French Church – the one that’s been out since October – but plans on asking the French bishops about it when they’re in to see him next.

It seems there’s a learning curve on responsibility and accountability, too.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 190 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. Reading through the papal comments again there’s ambiguity as to whether hypocrisy refers to the Archbishop’s rationale for resignation over an unproven allegation, or the chattering onlookers, or both. Francis asks, Why did he resign if the allegation was false, adding now there’ll be total loss of credibility? A prejudiced media article the underlying cause?
    It’s a remarkable argument for defending his quick acceptance of a staunch pro life prelate. The idea that Archbishop Aupetit was sacrificed on the altar of hypocrisy rather than truth begs further reflection on the question of whose hypocrisy.

  2. Strange. Pope Francis is criticized for taking long to dismiss a prelate who did not resign, and is criticized for acting promptly in the case of one who resigned.
    The Archbishop did say that it was not really a resignation but “I am handing it over to the Holy Father because it is he who gave it to me.”
    He added: “I did it to preserve the diocese, because as a bishop I must be at the service of unity.”,archbishop%20of%20Paris%2C%20according%20to%20French%20media%20reports.

    • Perhaps Francis who is squarely in the “pro-vaccine” Camp might inform us whether the Papal Nuncio to the E.U. who at age 67 just died of Covid had been vaccinated. News reports neglect to inform about this essential detail. Is Francis interested in truth and full disclosure or just interested in advancing a woke political agenda.

    • We are obliged to form our perception of events in context. In the instance of Archbishop Aupetit we have a former medical doctor and strong prolife advocate who published on the matter prior to priesthood. USNews reported Pope Says he removed Paris Archbishop over rumors. Whereas, Cardinal Marx who is strongly pro choice, pro homosexual, pro female ordination is not only refused resignation but is offered an important hierarchy assignment. Furthrmore, virtually all of Pope Francis’ affiliated prelates Cardinals Cupich, Farrell, Tobin, Gregory are either openly prochoice [or insist on the Eucharist for dissenting politicians] pro same sex adult relations, irregular unions. I’m obliged to be honest regarding what the facts transmit.

  3. Will the Pontiff Francis publish his investigation report explaining why his appointees attacked and smeared and destroyed the Franciscan Friars of The Immaculate?

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