The Vatican is stalling on the appointment of French Ambassador Laurent Stéfanini, and European media sources say it’s because he is a homosexual. Vatican officials have not commented on the situation, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Holy See has rejected an openly gay ambassador.
In 2013, Pope Francis made headlines when he gave a dispassionate answer to questions about the existence of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican.
“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”
The quote seemed like a major break from the previous church objections to homosexuality, but it might be that the media read too much into the Pope’s rhetoric.
According to the BBC, it normally takes about a month for the Vatican to approve a new ambassador. It’s now been three months for Laurent Stéfanini, and Vatican officials are not explaining why.
The French foreign ministry told the AFP news agency, “He is one of our best diplomats. That’s why we appointed him. We are waiting for a reply to our request.”
The Guardian describes Stéfanini as a 55-year-old practicing Catholic, and a man of “exceptional culture.” He served as deputy ambassador to the Vatican from 2001 to 2005, and is French President Hollande’s current head of protocol.
Despite his credentials, the Vatican has been pushing for Stéfanini to move aside for some time according to some sources. The Vatican Insider reported that Archbishop Luigi Ventura invited the diplomat to a meeting on February 5th, where he informally asked Stéfanini to renounce his nomination because of his sexual orientation.
The Vatican Insider later added that it was “a decision taken by the Pope himself.”
It’s still not clear how reliable the Vatican Insider‘s sources are, but Pope Francis is already taking heat with French media outlets running headlines like “The Pope Tarnishes His Image” from the Libération Daily.
Despite running counter to Pope Francis’ liberal image, the rejection would not be unprecedented for the church. The Guardian reports that the Vatican openly rejected two people in the past. One from Argentina, because he was divorced and living with his new partner. Another from France, who was gay and in a civil union with another man.
In 2009, a source at the Vatican confirmed to the Catholic News Service that marital status (and thereby sexual orientation) matters in the appointment process.
“For Catholic ambassadors, there is the question of their matrimonial situation. But outside of that, I don’t think there are other criteria.”
Still, the French ambassador could be receiving the cold-shoulder for supporting gay marriage. French legislators made gay marriage legal in 2013, despite the Vatican’s grumblings. Stéfanini’s appointment might be stalled as a passive punishment. In either case, Pope Francis might lose a few liberal supporters as a result.
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