The Holy See will appoint a new Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., replacing Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò whose controversial tenure did not help LGBT efforts in the church. But his replacement may have wide-ranging implications for implementing Pope Francis’ reform agenda, including on LGBT issues, in the U.S.
Viganò made headlines last fall after he arranged an encounter between Pope Francis and Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk whose refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-gender couples gained her infamy. That meeting quickly became LGBT opponents’ rallying cry, but suggestions the pope supported Davis were disproven. It turned out that Pope Francis’ only meeting while in D.C. was with a gay former student and his partner.
The Kim Davis debacle was not Archbishop Viganò’s first intervention against LGBT rights since taking the U.S. post in 2011. For the last two years, he appeared at the March for Marriage, a conservative anti-marriage equality rally, despite Catholics’ appeals for church leaders to skip the events which featured harshly anti-gay speakers. He used his final address to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last fall to keep up his culture warrior attacks. Viganò’s resignation was not a direct result of any of these incidents, but rather because of the church regulation that a bishop submit a resignation letter on his 75th birthday, reported The Advocate. Viganò’s milestone was in January. It is not surprising, however, that Pope Francis quickly accepted the archbishop’s letter of resignation, instead of letting him continue to serve, as sometimes happens.
It appears that the new nuncio to the U.S. will be Archbishop Christophe Pierre, though the Vatican has not confirmed this since they are waiting for approval from President Barack Obama.
Pierre is currently Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico and has served in several diplomatic postings, including Uganda and Haiti, according to the Jesuit-weekly America. His time in Mexico caused The Washington Post to speculate that Pierre will emphasize immigration justice rather than engaging social issues such as LGBT rights. This political shift would be notable and heighten the contrast between Pope Francis and the American bishops.
Apart from acting as the Vatican’s ambassador, the Apostolic Nuncio has tremendous bearing on a nation’s episcopal ranks, as Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter explained:
“When a diocese becomes vacant, the nuncio is charged with investigating the needs of the diocese and then proposing the names of three candidates who could meet those needs. That list of candidates, a terna, is sent to the Congregation for Bishops, which can pass it along to the pope as is, change the rankings of the three names on the list, or even reject the list and ask for a new one.”
Winters noted that, under Pierre’s watch, all new bishops in Mexico under Francis have been pastors. Nearly a dozen dioceses in the U.S. currently lack a bishop, meaning more Pope Francis-style bishops–similar to Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich–could be forthcoming. A historical note may be worth remembering, too. The last French nuncio was Archbishop Jean Jadot who promoted a generation of progressive Vatican II bishops who helped advance LGBT inclusion, such as Seattle’s Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen and Milwaukee’s Archbishop Rembert Weakland.
Confirmation of Archbishop Pierre’s appointment to the U.S. is expected before Easter. How he will act as nuncio and how this may affect LGBT issues in the church remains to be seen, but it seems likely to be an improvement over Archbishop Viganò’s tenure these last five years. Pierre may bring about a shift towards more pastoral and merciful ways of leading the church, exemplified by Pope Francis.”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry