Laurent Stefanini seems a natural candidate to be France's ambassador to the Vatican. He's a practicing Catholic that the foreign ministry tells Agence France-Presse is "one of our best diplomats," recommended by the French cabinet and Prime Minister Francois Hollande. According to the Huffington Post, Stefanini was the second-highest-ranking French diplomat to the Vatican from 2002 to 2005 and is endorsed by the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois.
But for some reason, Stefanini has gone unacknowledged by the Holy See since the cabinet approved his nomination on Jan. 5 — despite the fact that his predecessor departed last month.
Here's one possible eplanation: Stefanini is openly gay.
The Guardian reports that Stefanini's sexual orientation has somehow become a major point of contention at the Vatican, with French and Italian media openly speculating that the Vatican has rejected the ambassador because of it. The Guardian added that the Vatican Insider has a credible report alleging that "Stefanini was invited to a meeting with the apostolic nuncio in Paris, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, on 5 February and informally asked to step aside and renounce his nomination because of his sexual orientation." Additionally, Out magazine reports that Swiss media is reporting the Curia, the central government of the Roman Catholic Church, has interpreted the nomination as "a deliberate provocation."
Gay rights groups say the impasse over Stefanini's sexual orientation has revealed the pope's true opinion of LGBT rights, which has been viewed as relatively progressive since he famously declared about gay Catholics, "Who am I to judge?" in 2013.
"Homosexual people are rejected in the Vatican, despite their merits (and) indisputable qualities," Flavio Romani, head of Italian gay rights organization Arcigay, told AFP. "The facts speak for themselves: the senior prelates have shown their true face."
According to the Guardian, this is the third time in a decade the Vatican has openly objected to ambassadors because they were gay and living with same-sex partners, though Church officials said "their matrimonial situation" was more pertinent than their orientation. The AFP says Stefanini is "single and very discreet about his personal life."
Why you should care: If the pontiff is involved in delaying Stefanini's nomination because he is gay, it would seemingly be hypocritical. Francis followed up his 2013 remarks by adding, "You should not discriminate against or marginalize these people, and the Catechism says this as well." If the diplomatic incident is not soon resolved, this apparent open attitude toward Catholic engagement with LGBT people could look like a facade put on for the public.
While the pontiff has been quick to challenge certain aspects of the Church — such as its "spiritual Alzheimer's" and elitism in the Curia — he has yet to advocate any specific doctrinal changes on gay issues. During a recent trip to the Phillipines, Francis denounced "ideological colonization" that "[threatens] to disfigure God's plan for creation" in a speech advocating traditional family values.
Hopefully, the Vatican will thaw its icy attitudes towards gays and receive Stefanini as ambassador rather than thumb its nose at the very people Francis has said should not be marginalized. It's not like France wants the pope to perform a gay marriage in St. Peter's Square; this is a matter of basic respect.