Vatican nixes Argentina's ambassador on grounds of divorce

by John L. Allen Jr.

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According to press accounts in Argentina, the country’s nominee to become ambassador to the Holy See, Alberto Iribarne, has been rejected by the Vatican on the grounds that he’s divorced and living with another woman.

Technically speaking, sources said, the Vatican has not explicitly turned down Iribarne’s nomination, but it has rather declined to grant the necessary accreditation since his name was submitted in mid-December. Under the terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, a state is free to refuse a given ambassadorial nominee, and is not obligated to furnish a reason.

Sources in the government of Argentine President Cristina Elizabeth Fernández de Kirchner, however, have told media outlets that the motive for the Vatican’s inaction is that Iribarne is divorced and living in an “irregular” situation – something particularly unwelcome, sources told NCR, in an ambassador from a traditionally Catholic country.

Iribarne is a well-known figure in Argentine politics, having served as Minister of Justice in the government of former President Nestor Kirchner.

Critics have complained of a double standard, observing that at least three other current ambassadors to the Holy See are divorced – although all were apparently in place prior to the election of Pope Benedict XVI to the papacy in April 2005.

On the other hand, Benedict recently installed French President Nicolas Sarkozy as a canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, despite the fact that Sarkozy, a Catholic, is twice-divorced and is now involved in a very public relationship with Italian supermodel Carla Bruni. (The honor of becoming a canon at St. John Lateran has been bestowed upon French leaders since the 15th century.)

The veto on Iribarne is not, longtime Vatican watchers say, utterly without precedent. In 1987, after two years of escalating tensions, the Spanish government withdrew Gonzalo Puente Ojea as its ambassador to the Holy See after he publicly declared himself an atheist and filed for divorce from his wife.

What’s not yet clear, sources said, is whether the Vatican's cold shoulder to Iribarne is an isolated case, or whether it represents a permanent “tightening up” of the informal requirements facing future appointees.

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