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The Vatican is Stonewalling France’s Nomination of a Gay Ambassador

Laurent Stefanini is more than qualified to be France’s ambassador to the Holy See, but his sexual orientation may keep him from getting the job.
April 20, 2015, 8:50pm
Photo via AFP/Getty

France and the Vatican are deadlocked over the nomination of a gay ambassador to the Holy See.

Laurent Stefanini, a senior diplomat and advisor to President François Hollande, was nominated for the post on January 5. The Vatican has remained silent on the nomination ever since, and some have interpreted the stonewalling as an outright refusal to accept Stefanini.

According to French daily Le Figaro, Stefanini has never "hidden his homosexuality," and a 2010 profile by Les Échos said he is Catholic, single, and childless.

"He has always lived as a celibate, has never married religiously or civilly," Andrea Tornielli, a Vatican expert at the Italian newspaper La Stampa told the Daily Beast. "He never denied his sexual orientation, which he explains to friends is what prevented him from getting married and having children."

Stefanini is more than qualified for the job. He served as a deputy ambassador in the Vatican from 2001 to 2005, and has received praise from Hollande for his work. According to Catholic daily La Croix, the French president referred to Stefanini as one of the country's "best diplomats," and praised his "exceptional skills and human qualities."

Related: Turkey is pissed at the Pope for saying a WWI massacre of Armenians was genocide

The Vatican usually takes between "three and four weeks" to confirm a nomination, according to La Croix, and does not traditionally make a statement if a candidate is declined. Any ambassador nomination has to be sanctioned by the host country.

Contacted Monday by VICE News, the Vatican's envoy in France declined to comment on Stefanini's nomination.

French government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll said on April 15 that France stands by its nomination. France's Foreign Affairs Ministry released a statement Friday that called Stefanini "an excellent professional," and asked for the diplomat's privacy to be respected.

The ministry declined to comment further when contacted Monday by VICE News.

According to La Stampa's Vatican Insider blog, Stefanini's public support for same-sex marriage, which was legalized in France in 2013, may have irked Holy See officials more than his sexual orientation.

François Mabille, a political scientist at France's National Center of Scientific Research, told VICE News that France probably won't budge on the nomination, but added that the two countries are unlikely to sever diplomatic ties over the flap.

"That would be unthinkable," Mabille said. "Over 170 countries have an envoy in the Vatican."

The two states could be playing "tit-for-tat," Mabille explained, speculating that, "France could retaliate, for example, by cutting government funding to private Catholic schools or ignoring the Vatican's call for protection of Christians in the Near-East."

This is not the first time France and the Vatican have found themselves stuck in a diplomatic impasse. In 2008, the Vatican blocked the appointment of Jean-Loup Kun-Delforge, a French diplomat living in a civil partnership with a man.

"The context back then was different," Mabille said, alluding to Pope Francis' relatively tolerant views on homosexuality compared to other pontiffs before him. "For Pope Francis, it's embarrassing because it contradicts his call not to judge homosexuals. His reputation is at stake."

The Vatican's Secretariat of State handles foreign policy matters, but Mabille explained that the pope has a "discretionary power" to rule on such issues.

France's embassy in the Vatican confirmed to VICE News that the decision to accept or reject a diplomat's nomination is made "in agreement with the pontiff."

Follow Matthieu Jublin @MatthieuJublin

Image of Saint Peter's via Roberto Taddeo/Flickr