Pope replaces ambassador to U.S. who set up Kim Davis meeting

Story highlights

  • Pope Francis replaces Archbishop Carlo Vigano as ambassador to the United States
  • Vigano created uproar when he set up Kim Davis meeting with Francis
  • Archbishop Christophe Pierre is named as Vigano's replacement

(CNN)It was one of the worst kept secrets in Washington or Rome: Pope Francis would waste little time in replacing his ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Vigano.

On Tuesday, the Vatican announced that the day had come. Vigano, the diminutive diplomat who aroused ire by setting up a secret meeting in Washington between the Pope and Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who has become a conservative Christian heroine for refusing to sign same-sex marriage certificates, is out.
    He wasn't fired, exactly. Bishops are required to submit their resignation to the pope when they turn 75, and Vigano reached that milestone in January. But many bishops are allowed to serve past that point at the pope's discretion. That's true of Vatican ambassadors, called apostolic nuncios, as well.
    Officially, then, the Pope accepted Vigano's resignation, and replaced him with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, a seasoned diplomat who was previously the papal nuncio in Mexico, where Francis just finished a successful trip in February.
    Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington took a diplomatic approach to Tuesday's announcement, welcoming Pierre's appointment with "joy" but also expressing an appreciation for Vigano's "dedicated efforts."
    Vigano, an Italian prelate, had reportedly been sent to Washington in 2011 as a punishment for exposing financial corruption during former Pope Benedict XVI's papacy. In the United States, Vigano seemed more interested in the culture wars than diplomacy.
    Even before the Davis affair, American gay rights groups complained about Vigano. The Human Rights Campaign wrote a letter to the Pope in 2015, urging him to reign in his nuncio and prevent Vigano from speaking at a rally against same-sex marriage in front of the Supreme Court.
    News of the Pope's meeting with Davis, which broke days after he flew home from his first trip to the United States, caused an even bigger uproar.
    The Vatican initially seemed surprised at the reaction and released a statement distancing Francis from Davis. The Rev. Thomas Rosica, an English-language attache to the Vatican press office, said Vigano had arranged the meeting. Davis' lawyer, Mat Staver, had participated in the rally opposing same-sex marriage that Vigano attended in 2015.
    Complicating the tale even further, when a Vatican spokesman denied that the Pope's meeting with Davis was intended as an endorsement of her cause, he emphasized that Francis' only private meeting at the Vatican Embassy in Washington was with a former student from Argentina.
    That student turned out to be Yayo Grassi, a gay man who brought along his longtime partner to meet the pontiff.