FRANCE (TIP): Liberal Catholics’ hope for a more progressive Church under Pope Francis have taken another knock with claims that the Pontiff has refused to accept France’s new choice of ambassador to the Vatican because he is gay.
Laurent Stefanini, the openly gay diplomat at the centre of the row, was nominated as France’s ambassador to the Holy See by the country’s council of ministers on January 5. He should by now have filled the post left when Bruno Jouvert departed the position at the end of February.
But with the Vatican still failing to confirm officially that it has accepted the new ambassador, the French and Italian press are widely reporting that Stefanini’s sexuality is behind his rejection.
In France Le Journal du Dimanche quoted a Vatican insider as saying that the rejection was “a decision taken by the Pope himself”. The daily newspaper Liberation headlined its article on the story: “The Pope tarnishes his image”.
Asked by Independent if Stefanini’s sexuality had led to his rejection, a spokesman for the Vatican said: “We have no comment to make.”
A French foreign ministry source told the news agency Ansa, however, that Stefanini remained “the best possible candidate for the role”.
The Italian media has been quick to remind Francis of his declaration last year: “If someone is gay… who am I to judge him.” But other commentators have noted that the Vatican, which has been hit by numerous lurid sex scandals of its own, has a bit of a history when it comes to blackballing diplomats from overseas on account of its squeamishness about homosexuality.
In 2008 it blocked the appointment of another gay French diplomat, Jean-Loup Kuhn-Delforge, as ambassador to the Vatican. And in 2012 the Vatican rejected Bulgaria’s then choice of ambassador to the Holy See because, it was claimed, he had written a novel containing a gay sex scene.
The Bulgarian diplomat Kiril Maritchkov, a 39-year-old lawyer, who speaks Italian and four other languages, and is married to an Italian woman, appeared be an ideal choice for Sofia’s representative at the Vatican.
But it emerged that Archbishop Janusz Bolonek, the Pope’s representative in Sofia, wrote to his superiors highlighting the offending part of the novel, which was a finalist for a book of the year award in Bulgaria.