Vatican to Replace Diplomat Who Set Up Kim Davis Meeting

Carlo Maria Vigano
Carlo Maria Vigano

The Vatican is replacing its controversial ambassador to the U.S., who arranged the meeting between Pope Francis and antigay Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis last fall.

Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò will leave the position of apostolic nuncio, the equivalent of an ambassador, and will be replaced by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, a French-born clergyman who is currently the nuncio to Mexico, Catholic magazine America reports, citing Sandro Magister, a blogger who covers the Vatican.

The Vatican is not expected to confirm the news until the Obama administration has agreed to the new nuncio’s appointment, the magazine notes, but it adds that “reliable sources” expect an official announcement before Easter, which falls on March 27 this year. Because of his experience in Mexico, Pierre may well emphasize immigration issues, The Washington Post reports.

Viganò has had a different emphasis, being “often more outspoken in his antagonism to same-sex marriage than others in the church,” the Post reports. The Roman Catholic Church remains adamantly opposed to such unions, but Pope Francis has said clergy members needn’t discuss the issue constantly.

During the pope’s visit to the U.S. last year, Viganò arranged for him to meet with Davis, the Rowan County clerk, who shut down all marriage operations in her office to avoid serving same-sex couples after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. After she was sued and disobeyed a federal judge's order to resume marriage operations, she went to jail for contempt of court before agreeing that her office would serve all eligible couples.

Davis and her attorneys at Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBT legal group, said she and her husband met privately with Pope Francis, who told her to “stay strong.” After news reports appeared about the meeting, held at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C., Vatican officials said the session was not private — the Davises were among several dozen people in a papal reception— and that the pope did not discuss the details of her situation. “His meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” a Vatican spokesman said at the time. Davis is not Catholic but a member of the Apostolic Pentecostal Christian faith.

Vatican officials also said the pope’s only private meeting during his stay in the U.S. was with a former student from his time in Argentina. That student is a partnered gay man who now lives in Washington.

After the meeting with Davis, observers wondered if Viganò kept the pope “in the dark” about her situation or just didn’t realize “the off-message media storm that a meeting with Ms. Davis would provoke,” The New York Times reported last fall.

Viganò has been the nuncio to the U.S. since 2011, having assumed the position after having differences with other church officials when he served as secretary of the governorate of Vatican City State, “a position not unlike the mayor of Vatican City,” as the Times puts it, under Pope Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Viganò turned 75 in January; when bishops and archbishops reach that age, they are required to submit a letter of resignation to the Vatican. Not all such resignations are accepted, and some clergy members continue their work for many more years, but it appears that Viganò will not.