France is standing by its nominee to be ambassador to the Holy See, an official said on Friday, despite the Vatican's failure to confirm his posting for more than three months, a delay that French and Italian media said was due to his sexuality.
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Francois Hollande's government nominated the president's head of protocol, Laurent Stefanini, for the post on Jan. 5 but has still not heard back from the Vatican.
"We are still waiting for the reply to the request for his validation. Laurent Stefanini is one of our best diplomats, that is why we are proposing him," a source at Hollande's Elysee Palace told Reuters.
French Catholic daily La Croix cited an unnamed source as saying the Vatican considered it "provocation" that France's Socialist government, which in 2013 passed a law permitting gay marriages, had proposed a homosexual for the post.
There was no official Elysee comment and the Vatican also declined to comment on the nomination of Stefanini, who has previously occupied the number 2 post at the French embassy to the Holy See. Stefanini himself was not reachable by telephone at the Elysee on Friday.
"When an ambassador is appointed, the name is published in the official bulletin of the Holy See. Until that time, there is nothing to be said," the Vatican press office said in response to enquiries.
The affair risks becoming an embarrassment to Francis, who has maintained Church teaching on homosexuality but has struck a more sympathetic personal tone toward gay people.
He has given no sign of easing rules against gay unions or changing the Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are sinful, even if homosexuality itself is not.
But he has shown a more conciliatory attitude than many others in the Church, remarking that he could not judge gay people of good will who were seeking God, and meeting members of a Catholic gay rights group in the Vatican as recently as February.