Gay diplomat at center of unholy row between Vatican, France

France and Vatican at odds over ambassador
France and Vatican at odds over ambassador

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France and Vatican at odds over ambassador 02:37

Story highlights

  • The Vatican has not accredited France's appointed ambassador to the Holy See
  • Some suspect the stalling is because the nominated diplomat is openly gay
  • France and the Vatican have experienced similar tensions over a gay diplomat in the past

Paris (CNN)Diplomacy can sometimes be more about what is left unsaid than said -- and the current diplomatic row between France and the Vatican is a classic example.

Paris is insistent that its next ambassador to the Holy See be Laurent Stefanini, the current chief of protocol at the French Presidential Palace.
    On paper, he is an ideal candidate. A polished diplomat who previously served at the United Nations and in a lower capacity at the French Embassy at the Vatican, Stefanini has reportedly even received the backing of Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the cardinal primate of France.
    So one would think he would be a shoo-in for the job.
    Yet four months after he was named as the ambassador, the Vatican still has not accredited him for the post.
    Increasingly, there is suspicion that the Vatican is opposed to Stefanini because he is openly gay.
    What's more, he took a high profile position in favor of same sex marriage laws when the issue was being debated in France in 2013.
    The Vatican won't say that Stefanini has been rejected, and the diplomat is believed to have had a private audience with Pope Francis last month.
    But still the accreditation has not been forthcoming. If that amounts to a rejection, it is not the first time the Vatican has taken a vow of silence on such an issue.
    In 2008, France proposed diplomat Jean Loup Kuhn-Delforge as its ambassador to the Holy See.
    Kuhn-Delforge was living in a civil relationship with another man. For a year Pope Benedict the XVI stalled on the confirmation. The situation got so heated diplomatically that France demanded, and got, the Vatican to withdraw its longtime Papal Nuncio to Paris.
    Meanwhile, there was no ambassador from France to the Vatican for an entire year.
    But on many issues, Pope Francis is taking a much different line to his predecessor on the Throne of Saint Peter.
    When asked about his position on homosexuality recently, he famously said: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
    Nonetheless, the gay community in Paris expects the Pope to now practice what he preaches.
    A spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance here, Robert Simon -- noting that the church hierarchy has plenty of discreetly gay prelates in its ranks -- says: "The church is pushing toward hypocrisy... If you are a closeted gay, alright -- if you are openly gay, we don't want to talk to you."
    The Vatican won't comment on the Stefanini affair.
    For its part, the French government is only saying publicly that it will not withdraw Stefanini's nomination, and still holds out hope that Pope Francis will approve of its ambassador.
    That's something that would make relations a bit easier, especially since the Pope has said he wants to visit France before the year is out.