Pope blocks the nomination of new French ambassador to Vatican who is gay
THE Pope has reportedly barred the nomination of a close aide of President François Hollande as new French ambassador to the Vatican because he is gay.
The apparent rejection calls into question the Pontiff's reputation as holding more liberal views on homosexuality.
Laurent Stefanini (54), a senior diplomat and Mr Hollande's chief of protocol, was nominated in early January but the Vatican had maintained a stony silence over whether it accepts his credentials, officials in Paris said.
The usual time frame for acceptance is a month and a half. After that, a prolonged silence after a nomination is normally interpreted as a rejection.
The élysée said that the choice of Mr Stefanini to represent France at the Vatican resulted from "a wish by the president and a cabinet decision" and that the president regarded him as "one of our best diplomats".
French media widely reported that Mr Stefanini has been rejected because of his homosexuality.
'Le Journal du Dimanche' quoted a Vatican insider as saying that the rejection was "a decision taken by the Pope himself".
'Liberation', the Left-leaning daily, said that "the Vatican's homophobia seriously tarnishes Pope Francis's image as being (slightly) more open-minded than his predecessors on sexuality". In 2007, France nominated a gay ambassador to the Vatican who had a partner recognised under French law but the Holy See never responded to the nomination.
Mr Stefanini is reportedly widely respected by many in the Catholic Church, following his previous stint as number two in the French embassy at the Vatican from 2001 to 2005. Very discreet about his private life, he was "highly thought of in Roman circles", said Antoine-Marie Izoard, a Vatican specialist with the I-Media press agency.
Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris reportedly interceded personally with the Pope to back the nomination. 'La Croix' newspaper said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the former Vatican foreign minister who is currently president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, also supported the appointment.
The Pope has to date adopted a considerably softer line on homosexuality than his predecessor. "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" he said two years ago, adding that gay people should not be marginalised but integrated into society.
However, that did not stop him criticising the French government passing a law in 2013 legalising gay marriage and adoption rights for gay couples, leading to mass protests from the country's Catholics.
Observers say the Pope cannot be seen to be adopting an overly gay-friendly approach that would shock the Church's more conservative elements.