PARIS – The French government is expecting the Vatican to decide within days whether to approve the nomination of a respected diplomat who is said to be gay as French ambassador to the Holy See.
Paris is hoping that Laurent Stefanini wins approval five months after the French presidential palace submitted his nomination. The French government is awaiting a response via Vatican diplomatic channels within a week to 10 days, a French official told The Associated Press.
The Vatican spokesman declined to comment.
Gay rights groups have accused the Vatican of delaying a decision because of Stefanini's sexual orientation. Such decisions normally take just a few weeks.
The No. 2 official at the Vatican, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said last week, "The dialogue is still open and we hope that it might conclude in a positive light." It is the only thing the Vatican has said on the record about the nomination.
An approval would be unusual for the Vatican, which is dealing with growing advances for gay rights in many countries. The Vatican traditionally doesn't approve ambassadors in "nontraditional" family situations, and Catholic teaching holds that gays should be treated with respect but that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered."
Pope Francis has signaled a change in tone toward the church's reception of gays by saying "who am I to judge?" in reference to a priest said to be gay but looking for God.
In an unusual move, Francis and Stefanini met last month in the Vatican hotel where Francis lives.
Stefanini has not commented on widespread media reports in recent months asserting that he is gay.
The French official said Stefanini is gay but has chosen not to come out publicly, and the French presidential palace has said only that his private life should not affect his appointment. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject publicly.
Stefanini, 54, is currently chief of protocol at the French presidential palace, held a senior post at the French Embassy to the Vatican from 2001-2005, and served as the French Foreign Ministry's adviser on religious issues.
French President Francois Hollande has refused to consider other candidates for the job, and the French official said Monday that Stefanini is still viewed as the best possible choice.
Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See perform the same diplomatic activities as ambassadors elsewhere, representing their governments, relaying information, arranging official visits and, perhaps unique to the Vatican, attending the pope's public Masses.
Stephanie Nicot, president of the French rights group LGBT Federation, described Stefanini as a discreet man who has chosen not to politicize his sexual orientation.
"It is really time that things change in the Catholic Church," Nicot said. "It is inadmissible for a state to refuse a nomination of someone as competent as this for motives linked to his sexuality."
French Catholic newspaper La Croix has reported that the Vatican might see the nomination as a "provocation," and the delayed response "implicitly resembles a 'no.'" It said that France's most senior Catholic official, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, pleaded to the Vatican in support of Stefanini.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.