The Vatican has said a papal honor given to a militant pro-abortion Dutch politician was standard “diplomatic practice” when someone is part of an official delegation with their head of state, and in no way was meant as a sign of support for her politics of abortion or birth control.

In comments given Monday evening, Paloma García Ovejero, deputy spokesperson of the Holy See Press Office, said the honor awarded to Lilianne Ploumen — as Commander in the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great — was part of an exchange of honors between delegations after she took part in an official state visit to the Vatican last year of Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima.

In response to a question on whether the Vatican could confirm the honor and, if so, why Ploumen received it, Garcia said:

“The honor of the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great received by Mrs. Lilianne Ploumen, former Minister of Development, in June 2017 during the visit of the Dutch Royals to the Holy Father, responds to the diplomatic practice of the exchange of honors between delegations on the occasion of official visits by Heads of State or Government in the Vatican.

Therefore, it is not in the slightest a placet [an expression of assent] to the politics in favor of abortion and of birth control that Mrs Ploumen promotes.”

News of the honor emerged earlier this month when Ploumen was seen in a video by Dutch national broadcaster BNR showing off her medal, saying it was a “high distinction from the Vatican, from the Pope.” The story was first broken by the U.S.-based Lepanto Institute.

In audio of more of the interview, transcribed by Vatican reporter Marco Tosatti, Ploumen says she views the honor as recognition for her work in lobbying for abortion for girls, and sees it this way because “the Vatican, especially under previous popes, had a rather rigid attitude when it came to girls’ and women’s rights.”  

Ploumen told the Catholic Herald this week she felt “very honored” to receive it, and assumed she had been awarded it because she had taken part in the delegation as Holland’s minister of foreign trade and development cooperation. The Nederlands Dagblad newspaper said Ploumen was one of ten members of the delegation to receive the honor and that it was “purely a matter of protocol.” Vatican officials also received honors from the Dutch state.

But given her previous militant support for abortion and homosexual rights, news of the honor caused an outcry, largely on social media. Henk Rijkers, former editor-in-chief of Katholiek Nieuwsbladtweeted that the award was a “scandal.” 

Ploumen’s work in support of abortion has been monstrous: In protest at President Trump’s reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy last year which ended federal funding international organizations that perform or promote abortion, Ploumen set up an NGO called  “She Decides” which sought to continue funding many of those organizations. By July 2017,  “She Decides” had raised $300 million; it now has a war chest of $390 million, most of it going to UN agencies. It is backed by 60 countries, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Her campaigning has also gone beyond abortion to include being a radical supporter of homosexual rights. In 2010, she urged homosexuals to disrupt Mass in a Dutch cathedral after an openly homosexual man was denied Holy Communion. Last September Ploumen was a prominent speaker at the LGBT’s Core Group at the United Nations. The Vatican statement made no explicit mention of her political activism in that area.

In 2015, and also in her capacity as a Dutch minister, Ploumen had a private audience with the Pope to discuss climate change. The Dutch government had co-organized a Vatican conference on the issue ahead of the intergovernmental climate change talks in Paris later that year. 

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.”

Previous recipients of the honor have included a wide variety of people including the media mogul Rupert Murdoch in 1998, Matt Busby, former manager of Manchester United soccer team, and Rabbi David Rosen who was awarded the honor in 2005 in recognition for his work in Jewish-Catholic relations.  

Earlier on Monday, Cardinal Wim Eijk of Utrecht in Holland who is also a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said in a statement that he was “not involved” in bestowing the honor and was also “unaware of the fact that this papal award was requested for her.”