Pope Francis has said that sex outside marriage is ‘not the most serious sin.’
‘Sins of the flesh are not the most serious,’ the 84-year-old pontiff said during a press conference aboard the papal plane on Monday.
Pride and hatred are ‘the most serious,’ His Holiness added.
Francis made the comment in answer to a question about the Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit who resigned last week over an ‘ambiguous’ relationship with a woman.
Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St.Peter’s Square, at the Vatican on Wednesday
Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit (pictured in April, 2021) wrote to Pope Francis offering to resign following a report saying he had a consensual, intimate relationship with a woman – but he has denied having sexual relations with her
Although Aupetit, 70, denied the relationship was sexual – Catholic priests take vows of celibacy – he resigned to prevent rumours from damaging the Church.
A diocese spokeswoman said at the time that ‘he had an ambiguous behaviour with a person he was very close to’, adding that it was ‘not a loving relationship’, nor sexual.
‘When the gossip grows, grows, grows and takes away the reputation of a person, that man will not be able to govern… and that is an injustice,’ Francis said.
‘This is why I accepted Aupetit’s resignation, not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy,’ the pope said on the plane back from a trip to Greece.
‘I ask myself, what did Aupetit do that was so serious he had to resign? If we don’t know the accusation, we cannot condemn,’ the pope added, urging journalists to investigate.
He said Aupetit had been condemned by ‘public opinion, rumours. But what did he do? We know nothing’.
However, the pope referenced a breach of the sixth commandment – a ban on adultery – saying it was ‘not total, but little caresses and massages he gave to his secretary’.
‘That is a sin. But it is not the most serious because sins of the flesh are not the most serious,’ he said.
He added: ‘Aupetit is a sinner. As I am, as was Peter, the bishop on whom Christ founded his Church.’
In a statement last week, when the pope accepted his offer, Aupetit said he wanted to ‘protect the diocese from the division that always provokes suspicion and the loss of confidence.’
In answer to a separate question, the Pope urged urged caution in the ‘interpretation’ of a damning report into child sexual abuse by French Catholic clergy, saying a ‘historical situation’ must be viewed in context.
A landmark inquiry overseen by an independent commission confirmed in October extensive sexual abuse of minors by priests in France dating from the 1950s to 2020.
Pope Francis prays in front of the icon of Mary ‘Salus Populi Romani’ (Salvation of the Roman People) at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, in Rome on Wednesday
‘When we do this kind of study, we must be attentive to the interpretation we make of it,’ the pontiff said.
‘Abuse 100 years ago, 70 years ago, was brutality. But the way it was experienced is not the same as today,’ he said.
‘For example, in the case of abuse in the church, the attitude was to cover it up – an attitude that unfortunately still exists today in a large number of families.’
He added that the ‘historical situation’ must be interpreted by the standards of the time.
The pope, who after the publication of the report expressed his ‘shame’, revealed he had not read it himself but would discuss it with French bishops when they visited him later this month.
Dealing with the avalanche of revelations about sexual abuse by priests was one of the biggest challenges that Francis faced when he was elected pope in 2013.
Francois Devaux, head of a victims’ association in France, expressed incredulity at the pope’s ‘distressing’ lack of interest in the French inquiry.
‘This will show everyone that the pope is at the heart of the problem,’ Devaux told AFP, labelling his comments as ‘ignorance, stupidity and denial’.