Pope Francis’ liberal credentials have taken a blow after the Vatican reportedly refused to accept the nomination of the new French ambassador, a close aide of President François Hollande, because he is gay.
Laurent Stefanini, a senior diplomat and French President François Hollande’s chief of protocol, was nominated in early January but the Vatican has yet to accept his credentials, officials in Paris said.
Normally a new ambassador’s credentials are accepted within a month and a half. The Vatican does not usually explicitly refuse an envoy’s credentials, but a prolonged silence after a nomination is interpreted as a rejection.
The Vatican declined to comment when asked by The Local if Stefanini, who is openly gay, was being rejected and if this was due to his sexuality.
A French presidential aide said that the choice of the 54-year-old to represent France at the Vatican resulted from “a wish by the president and a cabinet decision” and that the president regarded him as “one of our best diplomats.”
French media widely reported that the apparent rejection by the Vatican was because of Stefanini’s homosexuality.
Le Journal du Dimanche quoted a Vatican insider as saying that the rejection was “a decision taken by the pope himself.”
Libération daily headlined its article on the story with “The Pope tarnishes his image.”
France in 2007 nominated a gay ambassador to the Vatican but the Holy See never responded to the nomination.
Stéphane Lemessin, a French Catholic priest who blogs on faith matters, told The Local he believed the apparent rejection of Stefanini was not solely on account of his being gay.
“Announcing his nomination to the press before presenting it to the Vatican was not the most diplomatic way of doing things,” he said.
French media reported that Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris had interceded with the pope to back the nomination of Stefanini, who has previously worked as an official in the French embassy at the Vatican.
La Croix newspaper said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the former Vatican foreign minister who is currently president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, also supports the appointment.
Pope Francis has taken a far less
judgemental heretical position on homosexuality than his predecessor Benedict XVI.
“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” he said in an interview shortly after he became pontiff two years ago.
He also said that gay people should not be marginalized but integrated into society.
But the change in tone does not necessarily signal a change in the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church.
Francis has criticized gay marriage and is opposed to adoption rights for gay couples, both of which became legal in France in 2013 amid widespread protests from the country’s Catholic community.
by Rory Mulholland