The real story behind the French ambassador's nomination to the Holy See

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 27, 2015

Nearly five months after the government of France proposed a new ambassador to the Holy See, the Vatican and French officials are still quietly discussing the nomination, we learned yesterday. What does that mean?

The Vatican still has said nothing, officially, about the nomination of Laurent Stefanini. The media, on the other hand, have said quite a bit. According to the most popular explanation, the nomination has stalled because Stefanini is homosexual.

Yet there are problems with that explanation. Apparently Stefanini is indeed homosexual, at least by inclination. But he has never “come out,” never been known to have a homosexual partner, never expressed opposition to Church teachings. In short he has never done anything to prompt Vatican opposition. And if Stefanini himself were the problem, why would Pope Francis have arranged a cordial private meeting with him—a meeting that was completely outside the bounds of ordinary diplomatic protocol?

The Vatican’s real concern, it seems, is not with Stefanini but with the French government. Andrea Tornielli, arguably the most reliable of Italy’s Vatican-watching journalists, has a more persuasive explanation for the diplomatic impasse.

The French government, Tornielli suggests, put forward Stefanini’s name with something approaching a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. The Vatican balked, not wanting to be pushed. And then—coincidentally?—the rumors began to circulate about the nominee’s sexual orientation. Was French President Francois Hollande trying to demonstrate that the could force the Holy See to accept a gay envoy? If so, he miscalculated.

Tornielli’s suggested explanation fits the facts. By meeting privately with Stefanini, the Pope showed that he was perfectly willing to accept the man. What’s still in question is whether he will accept the French government’s chosen ambassador.

Tornielli also notes that when Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said that the Vatican is still talking with France and “we hope that the question can reach a positive conclusion,” the Secretary of State was sending a positive signal to Paris. It seems likely that eventually—once the point has clearly been made—the French nominee will be accepted.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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