France abandons bid to name gay official as Vatican envoy

France’s government has named a respected diplomat who is said to be gay as the country’s new ambassador to UNESCO, more than a year after he was nominated to become the ambassador to the Vatican — a job he never started, because the Vatican withheld its approval.

Laurent Stefanini was confirmed Wednesday by France’s council of ministers as the country’s top diplomat at the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

In January 2015, France submitted Stefanini’s nomination as ambassador to the Holy See. A French official said last June that the government was awaiting a response shortly via Vatican diplomatic channels, since international law requires that a host government give its consent before an ambassadorial appointment becomes official.

One month later, in February 2015, French media reported that Stefanini, who is described as a practicing Catholic, is also gay. The appointment thus became politically charged, and the Vatican never responded to the French request for approval.

At one stage, French President François Hollande vowed not to make another pick if the Vatican declined to accept Stefanini, making Wednesday’s decision tantamount to a diplomatic reversal of form.

Pope Francis met Stefanini in a private session on April 17, 2015, and although neither Stefanini nor the Vatican disclosed details of their conversation, it was widely believed Francis wanted a chance to explain personally why the appointment could not be confirmed.

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