Did the Vatican reject an ambassador because he is an openly gay man?
News reports that the Holy See has not accepted the new French ambassador are spreading quickly, but due caution is necessary before conclusions can be drawn. If true, however, this is a troubling sign for a papacy which, so far, has had a pretty good record on LGBT issues.
Though nominated in January, Laurent Stéfanini, France’s choice as Ambassador to the Holy See has not yet received official recognition from papal officials, and the Vatican Press Office is refusing to comment on this delay.
The Guardian reported that an anonymous source inside the Vatican, said that Stéfanini met with Archbishop Luigi Ventura, Apostolic Nuncio to France, in February. Reportedly, the nuncio asked Stéfanini, who has previous experience at the French embassy at the Holy See, to decline the nomination because he was openly gay. Further rumors, reported in the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, claim that it was Pope Francis himself who sought to replace Stéfanini.
What then to make of this potentially tragic scenario which, if true, could undermine much of the progress Pope Francis made on LGBT issues? Michelle Boorstein writes at The Washington Post that Stéfanini is a qualified candidate with support from many, including church leaders, but there may be greater politics at play. She writes:
“No matter what’s going on privately at the Vatican over the appointment, the decision to appoint an openly-gay ambassador to the Vatican (even one as experienced in Paris-Vatican diplomacy as Stéfanini) was interpreted by some Vatican watchers as both a provocation and a challenge to the Vatican by the French government.
“That being said, the appointment reportedly had the support of the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, who is said to have written a letter to the pope in support of the nomination.”
Also necessary to consider is that the Vatican has previously rejected nominated ambassadors for their personal lives, often related to their marital status. The Post reports:
“In 2008, France tried and failed to appoint several candidates to the same job after its previous ambassador died. ‘The first candidate was divorced … another Protestant, and the last not only homosexual but … stably united with an official companion,’ Italian paper La Repubblica reported at the time.”
Official sources at the Vatican and the French Embassy are remaining quiet, leaving these reports grounded in unnamed Vatican sources. The Vatican should be transparent about the reasons for this delay and, if they are rejecting France’s nominee, be clear about the reasons why an otherwise qualified person is being denied. At the very least, the Vatican should confirm or deny whether Stéfanini’s sexual orientation is at issue.
There is no clear link to Pope Francis, and given his previous statements on gay people, this rejection would seem uncharacteristic of him. Remaining silent about the charges leveled, however, only leads to potentially damaging misinformation and France, along with worldwide Catholics, are owed an explanation.
Though reports about this matter are plentiful, prudence dictates that no hasty conclusions be drawn about why Stéfanini has not yet been credentialed as France’s ambassador yet. At this point, though, the Vatican’s silence is as harmful as rejection. Let us hope it is for reasons other than his identity as created by God.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry