It was just a fleeting statement the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin made at the end of a brief meeting with journalists following the international conference held by the Foundation “Centesimus Annus”. But it was the first official statement from the Vatican regarding the case of French ambassador Laurent Stefanini whom Paris chose as its representative to the Holy See last January, a choice that was rejected by the Vatican. The Pope’s “prime minister” said “the dialogue is still open and we hope that the question can reach a positive conclusion”. This seems to imply that the Vatican may now approve Stefanini’s appointment.
The cold shoulder the French ambassador received from the Vatican provoked a widespread media response after some Parisian newspapers referred to Stefanini’s sexual orientation as the reason why the Vatican had not given its approval.
The French Council of Ministers nominates Stefanini on 5 January this year and his nomination became public in the weeks which followed. The Vatican tends to apply very strict rules when approving diplomatic nominations: ambassadors to the Holy See cannot be in an “irregular” marriage situation or have certain behaviours that go against the teachings of the Catholic Church. So remarried divorcees are out and so are gay people who cohabit or activists who campaign in favour of same-sex marriage. Stefanini’s case immediately appeared more complicated in comparison to other cases, which have – in recent times too – also received a refusal from the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Laurent Stefanini is a believer, whose path of faith has been followed by the Archbishop of Paris Cardinal André Vingt-Trois. The cardinal “recommended” him in a way, acting as guarantor in view of his nomination as French ambassador to the Holy See. When he left his post as attaché at the French embassy to the Holy See in March 2005, John Paul II decorated him with the order of Saint Gregory. He has always lives a celibate life, has never married in either a religious or civil ceremony. He never denied his sexual orientation which, as he told friends, “has prevented me from starting a family and having children”. He is a practicing Catholic. Stefanini had never come out, he never took part in gay rights campaigns as an activist, he never lobbied and always stood out for his reserved nature.
The lack of a Vatican approval does not therefore stem from the candidate ambassador’s sexual orientation but rather, is due to the fact that President François Hollande apparently wanted to “force the hand” of the Pope, taking Stefanini’s appointment as a given. Francis wished to give a clear sign of this by receiving Stefanini himself in a private audience in St. Martha’s House on 17 April, during a visit to Rome for talks at the Secretariat of State.
At the end of the audience Stefanini asked the Pope to pray with him and Francis agreed.
Paris has responded to the Holy See’s silence saying on various occasions saying it has no other candidates to put forward. So how should the words pronounced by Parolin be read? First of all, the phrase about the possibility of a positive solution signals a reaching out to the French government. Only about a week or so ago, on 24 April, when Cardinal Parolin met journalists in Padua, he avoided commenting on the Stefanini case. The expression of hope for a possible solution seems to suggest that the Vatican authorities are waiting for Paris to make a move before they change their attitude. This move has not come yet. Once French newspaper spoke about a secret meeting between the Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve and Pope Francis which is said to have taken place on 17 May during the canonization ceremony. In reality, Vatican sources informed Vatican Insider that the Pope only greeted Cazeneuve for a few moments in the sacristy, along with all other heads of delegations before the start of mass.http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/parolin-stefanini-41367/