Pope Francis says sex outside marriage is ‘not the most serious’ sin

Pope Francis has said that sex outside marriage ‘is not the most serious sin’.

“The sins of the flesh are not the most serious,” the 84-year-old pope said during a press conference on board the papal plane on Monday.

Pride and hatred are “the most serious,” His Holiness added.

Francis made the comment in response to a question about Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit resigning last week over an “ambiguous” relationship with a woman.

Pope Francis delivers his blessing on Wednesday as he recites the Angelus afternoon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican

Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit (pictured in April 2021) wrote to Pope Francis to resign after a report saying he was in a consensual, intimate relationship with a woman - but denies having had sexual relations with her

Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit (pictured in April 2021) wrote to Pope Francis to resign after a report saying he was in a consensual, intimate relationship with a woman – but denies having had sexual relations with her

Although Aupetit, 70, denied that the relationship was sexual — Catholic priests take celibacy vows — he resigned to prevent rumors from harming the church.

A spokeswoman for the diocese said at the time that “he exhibited ambiguous behavior with a person he was very close to,” adding that it was “not a love affair,” nor sexual.

“If the gossip grows, grows, grows and takes away a person’s reputation, that man cannot rule…and that is unjust,” Francis said.

“That 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 wonder, what did Aupetit do that was so serious that he had to resign? If we don’t know the accusation, we can’t convict,” 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 referred to a violation of the sixth commandment — a prohibition against adultery — saying it was “not total, but little caresses and massages he gave his secretary.”

‘That’s a shame. But it is not the most serious, because the sins of the flesh are not the most serious,” he said.

He added: ‘Aupetit is a sinner. As I am, like 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 divisions that always arouse suspicion and loss of confidence.”

In response to a separate question, the pope urged caution in the “interpretation” of a damning report of child sexual abuse by French Catholic clergy, saying a “historical situation” must be seen in context.

A landmark investigation overseen by an independent commission in October confirmed extensive sexual abuse of minors by priests in France dating from the 1950s to 2020.

Pope Francis prays for the icon of Mary "Salus Populi Romani" (Salvation of the Roman people) in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, in Rome on Wednesday

Pope Francis prays before the icon of Mary ‘Salus Populi Romani’ (salvation of the Roman people) in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, in Rome on Wednesday

“When we do this kind of research, we have to pay attention to how we interpret it,” the pope said.

“Abuse 100 years ago, 70 years ago, was cruelty. But the way it was experienced is not the same as it is today,” he said.

“For example, with abuse in church, the attitude was to cover it up — an attitude that sadly still persists in many families.”

He added that the “historical situation” should be interpreted by the standards of the time.

The pope, who expressed his “embarrassment” after the report was published, revealed that he had not read it himself but would discuss it with French bishops when they visit him later this month.

Dealing with the avalanche of revelations about priestly sexual abuse was one of the biggest challenges Francis faced when he was elected pope in 2013.

Francois Devaux, head of a victims’ association in France, expressed his disbelief at the Pope’s “disturbing” lack of interest in the French investigation.

“This will show everyone that the Pope is at the heart of the problem,” Devaux told AFP, labeling his comments “ignorance, stupidity and denial.”

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