Gays and divorced need not apply as ambassador to Vatican

October 1, 2008

Pope Benedict and President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, 12 Sept 2008/Jacky NaegelenFor a country keen to improve relations with the Vatican, France has made some surprising faux pas this year. Things have been going well on the surface. President Nicolas Sarkozy has sung the praises of religion in public life several times this year. Pope Benedict was warmly welcomed during his visit to Paris last month. But behind the scenes, Paris has apparently flubbed what should be a routine procedure — naming a new ambassador to the Holy See.

The Foreign Ministry refuses to comment on ambassadorial nominations until they are accepted by the country involved. But with the post open for an unusually long period of 10 months, newspapers in Paris and Rome have begun writing about the delay. Even the Paris Catholic daily La Croix got into the story today. It seems Paris has been rebuffed twice for proposing a gay candidate and a divorced one. The Argentinians could have told Paris to play safe with a solid family man.

The problem began when the former ambassador,  Bernard Kessedjian, died on 19 December 2007, one day before Sarkozy delivered a speech in Rome defending France’s Catholic heritage.  Sarko’s first choice to replace him was Max Gallo, a popular historian and novelist who stresses the Christian roots themes dear to Pope Benedict. Not a diplomat, but a leading intellectual and an interesting choice. Gallo said thanks but he preferred to stay in Paris.

Pope Benedict meets ambasadors to the Holy See, 9 January 2006/poolAfter months of delay, Paris finally proposed a senior Foreign Ministry official. This one was an experienced diplomat, but there was a problem with his “personal profile,” the Vatican said. It turns out he lives in a civil union with a male partner.  That would make no difference in many possible ambassadorial postings around the would, but who ever thought it would go unnoticed by the Vatican?

A second writer was also considered, novelist Denis Tillinac, an old friend of former President Jacques Chirac. But he’s divorced, so the Vatican baulked at his nomination as well. This had happened to Argentina’s candidate earlier this year and it should have been obvious the Vatican would make no exception for the French here.

Some other names circulated, including that of Stéphane Chmelewsky, the Foreign Ministry’s advisor for religious affairs who organised the pope’s visit to Paris. On Monday, Le Monde reported that France’s current ambassador to Moscow, Stanislas Lefebvre de Laboulaye, had been proposed and accepted. Even if Paris finally got it right this time, it may still take a while before this is announced.

So what does this say about Sarkozy and his bid to improve relations with the Vatican? Maybe that this policy, which has been decried by the opposition as a cynical pitch to gain support on his right wing, may not be as well thought out as it seemed. La Croix quoted an anonymous French diplomat as saying: “The explanation for this is the total ignorance at the highest level of the French state about what the Church really is.”

P.S. — Just before hitting the button, I noticed John Allen’s story “Pro-Obama Catholic predicts ‘very positive’ ties with Vatican” based on a conference call with Douglas Kmiec, a Catholic law professor who says that Catholics can vote for Barack Obama despite his pro-choice stand on abortion (which the Church rejects). Given the problems the French are having, it would seem unlikely that he would pass muster at the Vatican either.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

I don’t doubt this is bad for Sarkozy, but rejecting a gay ambassador because he is gay doesn’t exactly leave the Vatican unscathed in the court of public opinion.

Posted by Jim Naughton | Report as abusive

I hold no brief for the French “opposition” (I am not sure there really is one, but I presume the article is referring to the motley collection of loony lefties and tired old commies and socialists so kindly wheeled out to make up the numbers on chat shows at election time) but I must say if such a thing exists its assessment of Sharko’s “cynical pitch” is dead right. What an appalling man. I hasten to add that I hold no brief for the Vatican either – it is mere barefaced loathing of utter cant and hypocrisy that leads me to make this post – I hope I’ve made my position clear…

Posted by Matthew | Report as abusive

With as many priest, bishops, and cardinals that are gay, it seems rather odd that they would object to an ambassador to the Vatican that was gay.

Posted by Joseph | Report as abusive

I believe that the Vatican is right,and I say ‘hoorah’ and it’s long overdue. Just would like to know: when are they going to stop allowing rich politicians and others,to have their marriages annuled,but not poor people?

Posted by HaroldC | Report as abusive

Moral certitude always inflames the left.

The problem is not necessarily that he is gay, the problem is that he practices homosexuality and even has a gay civil union.

To consider this man for 1/2 second reveals how far France has drifted from her Christian roots.

Posted by Jeff T. | Report as abusive

It is the Churches position that homosexual or divorced persons should not hold this position. The Church is not a proponent of gay persons in the pulpit either. They may exist but it would be highly unlikely that they revealed this in the original job resume as these high profile persons have. It is not the Church that wants everyone conformed to it’s will, It is the Public that wants the Church to accept it’s sin. If the Church gives it’s blessing for your sin, it ceases to be the Church. As for Sarkozy and France even asking for this blessing it is arrogant and ill-considered putting the Church in the public spotlight in an attempt to embarrass the Church. I must say that God is not embarrassed and doesn’t need to defend Himself against His detractors.

Posted by JL | Report as abusive

When did the official change about divorce happen?

The way I was taught in CCD classes was that divorce in & of itself was NOT a sin…the sin would only come into play IF a divorced person should re-marry w/o getting an annulment of the 1st marriage…specifically the sin would be adultery b/c officially the person is still married in the eyes of The Church as long as an annulment has not been granted. This always made perfect sense to me but apparently I understand what the sin of adultery is better than the RCC.

Posted by JMT | Report as abusive

In the name of God is it not time to call time on the Vatican’s obsession with homophobia and abject prejudice?

Is it not unseemly, inappropriate and essentially a disgrace that men of ‘God’ are constantly persecuting and victimising people who happen to be different?

If homosexuality is not in God’s plan, then why oh why does it occur right through and across the animal kingdom? Are animals possessed or something? No of course they are not and only a nut would think so. Get real religious people!

Preaching condemnation is a wicked way to misrepresent the doctrine of Jesus Christ. He would have been appalled at anyone preaching condemnation about anyone, let alone those whom they have never even met or known personally. Think about that!

In truth, I have never met a religious bigot who was not an abnoxious thorn in the side of compassion and the devotion to the doctrine of Jesus Christ.

That they, including the Pope, should be ashamed of themselves has not escaped me, and yet, what can you expect from the head of a huge money-making enterprise with mafia type extortion rackets and its own secret police force and which has engaged, over the centuries, in scandalous skulduggery, covert thuggery and the shameless persecution of those who do not fit their narrow, self-serving rules and regulations.

Do they think nothing of extracting money from the poor whilst denying them contraception? Do they not sentence poor families to lives of infabt mortality and starvation? Yes they do indeed!

The grotesque and anti-Christian attitudes of the Pope and his mass of supporters only reflects the history of an organisation born out of the ancient Roman mafia families, as a way of seizing the purse-strings of every Catholic on the globe and running a racket that uses religion as a front.

In that the Catholic church remains a cynical and money obsessed organisation with a massive collection of donated, extorted and stolen art and treasures all holed-up at various repositories, we can be assured that it is business as usual.

If you want to be a Chrsitian follow Christ and his doctrine – not a megalomaniac enshrined money-making empire led by a control freak!

I have nor shame, indeed, when castigating an organisation that has prsotituted the doctrine of Jesus Christ for the sake of money and power.

Posted by OracleSpeaks | Report as abusive

The Vatican is resistant to hectoring. I thank God that someone is.

And “Oracle”, the policy does not exist because homosexuals are “different”: it’s because they persist in sin — indeed, they actively advance it. The Church, you may have noticed, takes the opposing view.

Find another denomination to bother. Your agenda has no place here.

Posted by Charles Martel | Report as abusive

Oracle, if you take the time to re-read the article and then re-read your own post, you will notice that it is you who are persecuting the Catholic Church not the other way around.

Posted by Daniel Bishop | Report as abusive

[…] P.S.: The Vatican could refuse its assent to a foreign power’s naming of a particular ambassador, though perhaps at a cost (in making explicit a strain of relations) that it would not always wish to pay. In recent years the church has vetoed ambassadorial picks from France and Argentina because they were divorced or gay. […]

Posted by Secular Right » Kmiec as Vatican Ambassador? | Report as abusive