I’m pretty sure most of us are fed up with hearing about Lilianne Ploumen and her award from the Vatican. I know I am. But there’s been a development that is just too amazing not to share.
And I’ll get to it, but I’m going to leave you hanging for just a minute because first I want to share some additional background from my colleague in Rome, Marco Tosatti. We’ve translated one of his reports from last week — before the latest development — and he brings some details and considerations (and amusing commentary) to bear that will help set the stage for what happened after.
I’m only going to cite a portion of his article here, because some of it you’ll have already heard in our other reports. But permit me to share the majority of his piece, because it’s worth reading.
The following is a translated excerpt of a post on Stilum Curiae, the blog at MarcoTosatti.com. It has been translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino.
The Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Gregory the Great is a chivalric order of the Holy See instituted by Pope Gregory XVI on September 1, 1831. In the official directions for the conferral of pontifical ecclesiastical and lay honors issued on May 13, 2001, it is foreseen that the large cross of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great will be conferred on “candidates distinguished for their service to the Church at the national and international level, at least 55 years old, and at least 10 years after the conferral of an honor of a lower degree.”
The list of those who have received this award includes the names of G.K. Chesterton, the writer Louis de Wohl, the economist Stefano Zamagni, and the musician Riccardo Muti.
The same document spells out the procedure for the conferral of the honors: “Diocesan Bishops may propose the conferral of a pontifical honor on both clergy and laity, as a sign of appreciation and recognition for the service they have rendered. A Vicar General may likewise request such an award, but he must explicitly declare that he is acting with the express authorization of his Bishop. The request, accompanied by the curriculum vitae of the candidate (age, profession, family and social condition, along with an accurate description of their merits with regard to their service to the Church), ought to be sent to the Apostolic Nunciature, which will in turn send it to the Secretary of State after giving it the required nulla osta. Those requests coming from territories subject to the oversight of the Congregations for the Oriental Churches and for the Evangelization of Peoples should first be sent to the competent Dicastery which will in turn see to its transmission to the Secretary of State.”
In the First section of the Secretary of State, which deals with General Affairs, there is an office, to tell the truth not a very important one, which deals with these types of matters of “merits”. There has been discussion many times in the past about the value of maintaining this office, which seems a bit antiquated. If I am not mistaken – correct me if I am – this office is occupied by the Egyptian secretary of the Pope and Monsignor Burgazzi.
The reactions to the news were very diverse and interesting. A few – including some among those commenting on Stilum Curiae – decried it as a hoax, as fakenews, and so on. The same reaction was seen on social media by those who are Bergoglio’s fans. And not just the “little people” as we used to say. Among those who sought to demonstrate – and verify – the hypothesis that the medal was bought for a few euros on the Internet there was also a friend of mine who holds an important role in communications at Pontifical university which specializes in communication… such is the power of love.
Strangely, the hordes of my Vaticanist colleagues showed no interest in the news. And that, if you will permit me to say it, is strange. It would be as if the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem, or the University of Al Azhar, gave an honor to Citterio [Salami] or to San Daniele Prosciutto. But perhaps my colleagues wanted, and want, not to annoy the institutional Church. So I had to smile when on the plane a colleague asked the Pope whether he was afraid to speak with journalists. And why should he be afraid of anything – perhaps, I don’t know, of an embarrassing question?
I thought, erroneously, that surely some agency colleague in the Vatican Press Office, as is standard procedure in such cases, would ask for a clarification. But this did not happen, and so I thought it would be appropriate for me to write personally [asking for a clarification]. The following day a response was sent to me from the Holy See Press Office through the mouth of the Assistant Directress, the journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero, whom I thank. Also because I know that other colleagues – Steve Skojec of OnePeterFive, for sure – did not receive any reply to their question.
“The honor of the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great received by Ms. Lilianne Ploumen, former Minister of Development, in June 2017, during the visit of the Dutch royalty to the Holy Father, responds to the diplomatic practice of exchanging honors between delegations on the occasion of official visits of Heads of State or Government to the Vatican. Therefore it was not in the least a placet to the political action in favor of abortion and birth control which Ms. Ploumen has promoted,” wrote Paloma, thus confirming the news.
In the meantime Cardinal Eijk had issued a statement, saying that he did not know anything about the matter, and that he had not been consulted. Apparently the President of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference was not consulted either. But in order to have a complete clarification a few items are still lacking. Could it be that Lilianne Ploumen’s profile was effectively vetted without – incredibly – any objection? Was any bishop or cardinal of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference consulted or asked to give an opinion? From the response of the Holy See it would seem that a few of these honors, as standard procedure, are put on a little tray to be handed out during the course of the visit to anyone who is a part of the delegation. As one of my friends noted: “If that were the case, one could not exclude the possibility that any one of Dr. Mengele’s imitators received at the Vatican could find himself receiving one of these honors, without any expectation that such an action would be interpreted as an endorsement of experimentation on prisoners.”
Certainly, at least in theory, these medals are given out because of merits…if so, what sense would there be in showering them out like rain for the sake of diplomatic practice, without any verification of who is receiving them?
My friend asks himself: “Was it necessary and diplomatically unavoidable?” When Hitler was received in Italy on May 2, 1938 he was the Chancellor of Germany. Certainly his ideas were known, but he had not yet revealed himself to be the monster that he was; Kristallnacht would not occur until November 9 of that year and the deportations to the extermination camps would follow in due course, but already Pius XI was most firm: he would not receive the Chancellor of the Reich, he opposed decorating the Via della Conciliazione, he openly deplored the fact that the Celtic cross was displayed in place of the Cross of Christ in the decoration of the city of Rome, showing through all of his objections his pastoral zeal for the people. “But today,” my friend continues, “can diplomatic etiquette really take the place of the [Lord’s] commandment not to give scandal? What is more abject than the support for policies of exterminating innocent children? Is abortion no longer an ‘abominable delict’?”
These are important questions, especially important for millions of persons throughout the world, both Catholic and non-Catholic, who fight against abortion, even to the point of being imprisoned, such as the Canadian activist Mary Wagner. People who are pro-life and pro-family remain shocked by this fact; and my opinion is that the Holy See needed to give a much more profound and articulate response as to how and why such a colossal gaffe could have been possible. And do you not find it astounding that, out of seventy of my colleagues who greeted the Pope during his flight to Chile, not one thought to ask him a simple, simple question, like: “Your Holiness, why did you give a medal to an abortionist?”
When Marco wrote all this last Friday, of course, he did not know that the Vatican had one more clarification coming. Yesterday, the National Catholic Register‘s Rome correspondent, Edward Pentin, reported what he was told:
The Vatican currently has no plans to change the procedure of exchanging honors during historic official visits of heads of state to the Vatican, and believes that the responsibility for any subsequent abuse of such decorations rests with the visiting delegation.
Despite the outcry over giving militant pro-abortion Dutch politician Lilianne Ploumen a medal of Commander in the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great last summer, Vatican officials believe the statement issued about the honor last week by deputy spokeswoman Paloma Garcia-Ovejero was enough, and that Ploumen’s award was actually meant as a snub. [emphasis added]
I’m going to stop there for a second so you can finish laughing, maybe clean the coffee (or whiskey, not judging) off your keyboard and screen.
Good. Let’s continue:
In answer to a Register enquiry on Monday, an official would not say whether better vetting procedures would be implemented in the future to prevent it happening again, insisting instead this was “a very traditional procedure” for such an “historic occasion” and was really meant as a way of “honoring the king.” It is something that “has been done many times in the past for other visiting heads of state,” he said.
The source added the honor was no different to someone “going to visit someone else’s house as a guest, and who comes with companions: one shows a minimum amount of respect to whom he brings.”
The Commander in the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great medal is normally given in recognition of “personal service to the Holy See and to the Roman Catholic Church, through [the recipient’s] unusual labors, their support of the Holy See, and their excellent examples set forth in their communities and their countries.”
Ploumen will not be installed as a Dame of the Order, and in fact by giving her such a medal, the source said the honor was meant as a “slight” because a government minister normally receives a more distinguished decoration. The king, for instance, received “the Grand Collar,” an ornate chain worn about the neck to symobolize membership of a chivalric order.
Can you just imagine some Vatican bureaucrat rubbing his hands together manically or twirling his mustaches, saying, “I know how we’ll stick it to that militant abortion promoter! We’ll GIVE HER A PAPAL AWARD DESIGNATED FOR MERITORIOUS SERVICE TO THE CHURCH!! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! SHE’LL BE SO INSULTED!!!!”
Give. Me. A. Break.
I know the Vatican thinks we’re all indescribably stupid, but if there’s ever been a case of “don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining,” it’s this.
And while their ridiculous excuse here is good for a laugh, or raging bellow at your screen, or both — at their expense — what’s tragic and inexcusable is the dishonor these disrespectful children in Rome are showing to those who have received the Order of St. Gregory in the past. They — and they alone — are the recipients of a “slight” or a “snub” from the Vatican here. As Marco Tosatti wrote, in a section of his post not included in the above excerpt, this pontifical decoration “signifies something more than an adhesive souvenir to attach to the refrigerator.”
I’ve heard from some of the offended — recipients of the Order of St. Gregory and their family members alike — since the story first broke. Individuals for whom their receipt of the award, or the award given to a family member, was a singular moment of honor in their lives. These decorations, far from being disposable trinkets, were handed down as precious heirlooms to descendants as reminders of the faithfulness of parents or grandparents who had gone before them.
One person who wrote to me about their Grandfather receiving the medal half a century ago said that the title that came with it was engraved on his tombstone: “Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.”
“I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach,” the person told me. “This award has lost its special significance with its bestowal on this pro-abortion advocate.”
As if giving the award to an abortion extremist wasn’t enough, they have cast disgrace upon all previous recipients of the award over the better part of two centuries. The Vatican should be utterly ashamed.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.