Vat­i­can, France stand­off over gay diplo­mat

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

Three months af­ter ap­point­ing an openly gay diplo­mat as France’s am­bas­sador to the Vat­i­can, Paris is still wait­ing for the green light from Rome.

With Pope Fran­cis en­ter­ing his third year in the post, some ac­tivists see the Vat­i­can’s si­lence as a test of the depth of re­form in the Catholic Church.

While the Vat­i­can usu­ally de­clares it has ac­cepted a can­di­date around a month af­ter an ap­point­ment is made, it makes no public state­ments at all if the an­swer is no.

Paris ap­pears determined to stick with sea­soned can­di­date Lau­rent Ste­fanini, a 55-year-old prac­tic­ing Catholic whom the for­eign min­istry de­scribed as “one of our best diplo­mats.”

“That’s why we ap­pointed him. We are wait­ing for a re­ply to our re­quest,” it said.

Sources close to Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande said his ap­point­ment was “the wish of the pres­i­dent” and the cabi­net of min­is­ters.

The French cabi­net ap­proved Ste­fanini’s ap­point­ment on Jan­uary 5 but has not yet re­ceived a re­ply.

“A de­lay of three months like this is not nor­mal,” a well-in­formed source in Rome told AFP.

“The re­ply nor­mally doesn’t take more than a month, a month and a half,” this source added.

If there is a re­fusal, “the Vat­i­can doesn’t re­ply, doesn’t of­fer an ex­pla­na­tion and it’s up to the coun­try con­cerned to in­ter­pret this lack of a re­ply.”

Spec­u­la­tion, Crit­i­cism

In 2007, France pro­posed openly gay diplo­mat Jean-Loup Kuh­nDelforge to be its am­bas­sador at the Vat­i­can. Paris never re­ceived a re­ply, and it even­tu­ally put for- ward an­other nom­i­nee.

But un­like Kuhn-Delforge, Ste­fanini is sin­gle and is very dis­creet about his per­sonal life. Ital­ian daily Il Mes­sagero de­scribed him as “a prac­tic­ing Catholic, very cul­ti­vated, of ab­so­lute dis­cre­tion.”

From 2001 to 2005, he served as the num­ber two at the French em­bassy in the Vat­i­can.

Italy’s La Stampa daily’s Vat­i­can In­sider blog said Ste­fanini’s po­si­tion on gay mar­riage — not his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion — may be the prob­lem in get­ting the Vat­i­can’s green light.

Gay mar­riage has been legal in France since 2013, de­spite the Catholic Church’s op­po­si­tion.

Fran­cis, the first pope to hail from Latin Amer­ica, is widely re­garded as hav­ing been a huge suc­cess in his two years at the helm of the Church.

His charm, de­ci­sive ap­proach to is­sues such as pe­dophile priests and his pleas for a more mer­ci­ful and worldly ap­proach on ques­tions such as ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and di­vorce have en­deared him to a much broader public than his more con­ser­va­tive pre­de­ces­sor Bene­dict XVI could reach.

But the de­lay over Ste­fanini’s nom­i­na­tion has opened the Vat­i­can up to a slew of crit­i­cism.

“Ho­mo­sex­ual peo­ple are re­jected in the Vat­i­can, de­spite their mer­its (and) in­dis­putable qual­i­ties,” said Flavio Ro­mani, who heads the Ital­ian gay rights group Ar­ci­gay.

Ac­cus­ing the Holy See of fail­ing to im­ple­ment its “teach­ings of open­ness,” he blasted the Vat­i­can as act­ing “like Uganda,” where gay peo­ple are heav­ily per­se­cuted.

“The facts speak for them­selves: the se­nior prelates have shown their true face,” Ro­mani said.

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