VATICAN CITY — “He was here nine years and so certainly left his mark,” said Archbishop Michael Blume, apostolic nuncio to Uganda. “He’s very well spoken of.”
Archbishop Blume, a native of South Bend, Ind., spoke to the Register April 19 about Archbishop Christophe Pierre, whom Pope Francis appointed April 12 as the new apostolic nuncio to the United States. On April 21, Archbishop Pierre met with the Pope for the first time since his appointment.
Archbishop Pierre, 70, is the first Frenchman to be appointed apostolic nuncio to the United States and the first Francophone nuncio since Belgian Archbishop Jean Jadot served in the role from 1973 to 1980. Archbishop Pierre replaces Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, whom Benedict XVI appointed nuncio to the United States in 2011 and has reached the mandatory retirement age of 75.
The French diplomat brings a wealth of diplomatic experience to the position, is known to speak English and Spanish fluently and is well regarded for his pastoral abilities. Those who know him say he is “a thoughtful, hardworking man,” a “good listener” with “a great sense of fairness and balanced judgment” and a good sense of humor.
His previous postings as nuncio have been in Haiti (1995-1999), Uganda (1999-2007) and lastly Mexico, where he spent almost a decade. While in Uganda, he temporarily also served as the Pope’s representative to Burundi, following the assassination of the then-nuncio to the country, Archbishop Michael Aidan Courtney, on Dec. 29, 2003.
After serving many years in Mexico, the archbishop is well aware of the plight of migrants and tensions concerning immigration policy between Mexico and the United States. As nuncio there, he was also responsible for identifying candidates to be bishops, a role he will also have as nuncio in Washington, in conjunction with the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Key Appointments in Mexico
While in Mexico, Archbishop Pierre oversaw a number of key episcopal appointments. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI appointed, under the nuncio’s watch, Msgr. Gustavo Rodriguez Vega as bishop of Nuevo Laredo.
In June 2015, Bishop Rodriguez issued his own declaration, along with the clergy of his diocese, in the wake of national laws surrounding same-sex “marriage. The bishops pledged to suffer imprisonment rather than cooperate with the Mexican Supreme Court’s nullification of state laws that prohibited same-sex “marriage.” That same month, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Rodriguez archbishop of Yucatan.
Other bishops appointed during Archbishop Pierre’s time as nuncio have been strong in opposing the same-sex agenda.
Archbishop José Antonio Fernández Hurtado of Durango, appointed in 2014, has voiced concern about the effect adoption by same-sex couples will have on children, while Archbishop Constancio Miranda Weckmann of Chihuahua, appointed in 2012, publicly said he was praying that same-sex unions never reach his diocese.
Archbishop Víctor Sánchez Espinosa of Puebla de los Angeles, appointed in 2009, is known to be an outspoken opponent of abortion and the same-sex agenda, while Archbishop Alfonso Cortés Contreras of Leon, appointed by Francis in 2013, is also known to be strong on supporting the family, promoting evangelization and reaching out the peripheries.
Archbishop Pierre did not hold back from speaking out himself during his time in Mexico. Among his pronouncements, he underlined the importance of Catholic politicians being coherently Catholic in their political lives, proposed solutions to human trafficking and called on Mexico to be reconciled with its origins, values and traditions.
Raised in Madagascar
Born in Rennes, in northwestern France, on Jan. 30, 1946, Christophe Pierre was raised in Madagascar, France and Morocco. After formation for the priesthood at a seminary in Rennes, he was ordained a priest on April 3, 1970, in Saint-Malo, and consecrated archbishop on Sept. 24, 1995, also in Saint-Malo. He studied at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome and at the Ecclesiastical Academy (1973-1977), the Holy See’s institution for training diplomats.
He is a specialist in sacred theology, having studied the subject at the Catholic Institute of Paris, and has a doctorate in canon law. He was a parish priest from 1970 to 1973 in the parish of St. Peter and St. Paul in the Diocese of Nanterre, France, before entering the Ecclesiastical Academy. As a junior diplomat, he served in New Zealand and the South Pacific Islands, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Brazil and at the Holy See’s permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
War Zone in Uganda
Archbishop Blume recalled that Archbishop Pierre was nuncio in Uganda at a time “when the country still had a war zone in the north.” The conflict was waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a violent cult led by Joseph Kony, against the Ugandan government.
The war, which also involved South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, “started calming down” in 2007, Archbishop Blume noted.
“I would suspect he [Archbishop Pierre] was involved in some way, but I would really have to research concretely into how he did that,” Archbishop Blume said, adding that “very important efforts” were taken in the area of interreligious dialogue there. “Different religious leaders said: ‘We cannot permit this,’” Archbishop Blume said. “What exactly was the nuncio’s role there, I don’t know, but I would suspect he was involved in some way.”
The papal diplomat “left a good mark,” he said, “and is a person still remembered in Uganda.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.