Pope names papal nuncio to Mexico to be new nuncio to the United States

  • Written by Catholic News Service
  • Published in National
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to Mexico since 2007, has been appointed the new apostolic nuncio to the United States. Archbishop Pierre is pictured during a press conference regarding the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in Leon, Mexico, in this March 19, 2012, file photo. Photo: CNS/Mario Armas, Reuters Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to Mexico since 2007, has been appointed the new apostolic nuncio to the United States. Archbishop Pierre is pictured during a press conference regarding the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in Leon, Mexico, in this March 19, 2012, file photo. Photo: CNS/Mario Armas, Reuters

WASHINGTON - Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to Mexico since 2007, to be the new apostolic nuncio to the United States.

He succeeds Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who has held the post since 2011. Archbishop Vigano turned 75 in January, the age at which canon law requires bishops to run their resignation into the pope.

As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, shared "a heartfelt greeting and my prayerful support" of the newly named nuncio "as he embarks on his service to our country."

"A shared closeness with the church in Mexico already creates a strong fraternal bond between us," said the archbishop about the April 12 appointment.

"With fond affection, allow me also to thank Archbishop Vigano for his selfless contributions to the life of the Catholic Church in the United States," Archbishop Kurtz added.

A nuncio is a Vatican diplomat with the rank of ambassador. He is responsible for diplomatic relations with the government, but also serves as the pope's representative to the church in a given country, which includes responsibility for coordinating the search for and vetting of candidates to become bishops.

Christophe Louis Yves Georges Pierre was born Jan. 30, 1946, in Rennes in France's Brittany region, where his family has had roots for many generations. He first attended school at Antsirabe in Madagascar, pursued his secondary education at the College of Saint-Malo in France and also spent one year in Morocco at Lycee Francais of Marrakesh.

He entered Saint-Yves seminary in Rennes in 1963, but he interrupted his studies for two years of military service in 1965 and 1966. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Rennes at the Cathedral of Saint-Malo April 5, 1970.

Then-Father Pierre earned his master's degree in theology at the Institut Catholique de Paris and his doctorate in canon law in Rome. He was parochial vicar of the parish of Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul de Colombes in the Diocese of Nanterre, France, from 1970 to 1973.

He then earned a diploma at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, which provides training to priests for eventual service in the Vatican's diplomatic corps. In 1977, he entered diplomatic service, with his first post in Wellington, New Zealand. He then served in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Brazil and at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva.

In July 1995, St. John Paul II named him an archbishop and appointed him as apostolic nuncio to Haiti. He served there until 1999, and then was named nuncio to Uganda, where he stayed until 2007, when he was named nuncio to Mexico.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said in a statement that he looked forward to welcoming Archbishop Pierre to the archdiocese "where he will make his home as he carries out his responsibilities across the country." The apostolic nunciature is located in the nation's capital.

"Archbishop Pierre is recognized for his distinguished diplomatic career and service to the church," said the cardinal, who also expressed gratitude for Archbishop Vigano's service.

"As he departs Washington and concludes his service to the church, I offer my gratitude for his many kindnesses as we worked together, particularly in anticipation of the visit of Pope Francis to the United States last September," Cardinal Wuerl said. "Archbishop Vigano carries with him our heartfelt prayers and best wishes." 

A nuncio is a Vatican diplomat with the rank of ambassador. He is responsible for diplomatic relations with the government, but also serves as the pope's representative to the church in a given country, which includes responsibility for coordinating the search for and vetting of candidates to become bishops.

New U.S. nuncio worked in Mexico during a difficult period

By David Agren, Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY - Archbishop Christophe Pierre represented the Vatican in Mexico for nearly a decade, a time defined by a drug war, a delicate period of domestic politics and the election of a pope whose pastoral approach and church vision appears at odds with many in the Mexican Catholic hierarchy.

Archbishop Pierre won an important reform for the church on religious liberty, which moved Mexico further away from its anti-clerical past. He became known for working behind the scenes and acting discreetly in a country where church and state were estranged until 1992.

"He had to navigate a very difficult political environment," said Pablo Mijangos Gonzalez, a historian at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City. "He was a very diplomatic nuncio, who did not create unnecessary antagonisms for the Catholic Church and avoided distractions and media scandals."

Mijangos Gonzalez added that Archbishop Pierre "was one of the various ecclesiastical actors involved in the (religious freedom) reform" and will likely assume a similar role in the United States.

Archbishop Pierre, 70, brings a low-key approach to the United States, where issues such as a religious freedom are priorities for Catholics. He must work with bishops believed to be not entirely on board with the pope's plans for the church -- something he struggled with in Mexico.

Earlier this year, the country's most senior Catholic leader, Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera, allowed an editorial in an archdiocesan newspaper to publicly pose the question, "Who gave the pope bad advice?" It alluded to the February papal tour, in which Pope Francis told Mexican bishops to "stop resting on their laurels" and start speaking out on social issues and vices such as drug violence, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives since late 2006.

Pope Francis also called for increased closeness between Mexican and U.S. bishops' conferences -- an issue Archbishop Pierre is in a position to address, though some observers see him as one of the bishops being admonished by the pope in the speech.

"The pope's message at the cathedral had the nuncio as some sort of ghost addressee," said Rodolfo Soriano Nunez, a Catholic sociologist, who saw the nuncio's continued presence as untenable in the aftermath of the Archdiocese of Mexico City editorial. "He has been here for more than eight years."

Additionally, Nunez said the nuncio acted somewhat slowly in cases of sexual abuse by priests and removing bishops who responded improperly to such allegations. He also did not arrange meetings with victims during visits by Popes Benedict XVI and Francis.

Archbishop Pierre was appointed apostolic nuncio in 2007 during the early days of the country's crackdown on drug cartels and organized crime. He leaves as Mexico returns to an authoritarian-style of politics common during the days of one-party rule, when the church was unable to speak out on social and political issues and was expected to fall into line behind the government.

In perhaps his most media-covered act, he celebrated Mass in 2014 at the Ayotzinapa teacher training school for the families of the 43 missing and presumably murdered students -- whose case has not been championed by the church and has caused grief for the image-conscious Mexican government, which has tried to discredit outside experts reviewing the oft-questioned official investigation.

The next nuncio "needs to be very cautious about his relationship with the current government," Nunez said.

"(The nuncio) also needs to have some weight of his own in Rome to be perceived not only as the representative of the pope, but also as being close to him," Nunez added. "The Mexican bishops have become used to jumping on a plane to do their own dealings at the Curia."