12 April 2016
Christopher Lamb in Rome
Pope Francis appoints Mexico nuncio as his ambassador to the US
The decision is likely to be seen as a pro-migration move ahead of US elections
An experienced Vatican diplomat currently serving in Mexico has been appointed as the new papal ambassador to the United States.
Pope Francis today named Frenchman Archbishop Christophe Pierre, 70, to be his nuncio in the United States at a time when the country is in the middle of a presidential election campaign.
The decision to appoint his nuncio in Mexico is likely to be read as a call for America to do more to welcome migrants coming from that country. Earlier this year, the Pope suggested Republican presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, could not call himself a Christian for wanting to build a border wall between the US and Mexico.
The new ambassador succeeds Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano who gained notoriety for helping to set up a meeting between the Pope and Kim Davis, an official who refused to grant marriage certificates to gay couples. The encounter took place at the nuncio’s residence in Washington and caused a major fall out as it suggested papal support to an icon of the American culture wars. Francis was also unhappy with his nuncio for dragging him into a political dispute.
Archbishop Vigano, who has reached retirement age of 75, had himself been sent to the United States in controversial circumstances having been effectively pushed out of the Vatican for seeking to reform the city state's finances.
Archbishop Pierre is one of the Church’s most seasoned diplomats and his new post will see him play a crucial role in appointing bishops. This is likely to be a remodelling of a hierarchy that has at times struggled to adopt the Pope’s agenda. During his US visit, the Pope urged the bishops to put aside harsh language and complicated doctrine in favour of dialogue. In recent years the American church has developed a reputation for its culture warrior stance by waging public battles against abortion, contraception and gay marriage.
Francis wants a new approach from bishops who he believes should be pastorally minded and speak out on issues of social justice. On this, Archbishop Pierre is on the same page as the Pope, having offered advice ahead of the papal visit to Mexico where the local hierarchy were given a tough message on how to go about their ministry. Francis gave them a list of things to avoid including “proud self-sufficiency”, “empty plans for superiority” and clericalism.
“We do not need princes,” the Pope said, “but rather a community of the Lord’s witnesses”.
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