The pope’s comments during the in-flight press conference, posted later on the Vatican’s YouTube channel, came at the end of his five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece.
The Vatican announced that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Aupetit on Dec. 2 as the pope traveled to the divided capital city of Nicosia in Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
In a packed intinerary for a two-day visit, the pope met Cypriot authorities, Orthodox bishops, local Catholics, and migrants, as well as celebrating Mass in the country’s largest stadium.
The 84-year-old pope’s three days in neighboring Greece included meetings with political authorities, Orthodox leaders, the Catholic community, local Jesuits, and migrants on the island of Lesbos. He also celebrated Mass at a concert hall in the capital.
On the flight back to Rome, Pope Francis was also asked about a report which estimated that hundreds of thousands of children were abused in the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years.
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In response, Pope Francis said that there was a risk of confusing the way that a problem was perceived 70 years ago with the way it is seen today.
“A historical situation should be interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time, not ours,” he said.
The pope added that he had not read the report, but that he planned to discuss it with the French bishops.
The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) published a nearly 2,500-page final report on Oct. 5, estimating that 216,000 children were abused by priests, deacons, monks, or nuns in France from 1950 to 2020.
It suggested that there were “between 2,900 and 3,200” abusers out of 115,000 clergy and other religious workers, which it noted “would imply a very high number of victims per aggressor.”
The study also said that “more than a third of sexual assaults within the Catholic Church were committed, not by clergy, monks or other religious workers, but by laypersons.”
Members of a French Catholic academy have criticized the report’s methodology, claiming that it lacked “scientific rigor.”
Last month, Catholic bishops in France announced that they have agreed to launch “a vast program of renewal” of governance practices in response to a landmark report on clerical sex abuse.
Aupetit responded to the pope’s decision to accept his resignation in a video message on Dec. 2, saying that he had been “greatly disturbed by the attacks” on him.
He said: “The painful events of the past week, about which I have already spoken, had led me to place my mission in the hands of Pope Francis in order to preserve the archdiocese from the division that suspicion and loss of trust always provoke.”
“I pray for those who may have wished me ill as Christ taught us to do, who helps us beyond our poor strength. I ask forgiveness of those whom I might have hurt and assure you all of my deep friendship and my prayer, which will always be yours,” Aupetit said.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.