Note: The Lepanto Institute teamed up with OnePeterFive and Maike Hickson in compiling this report.
January 15, 2018 (Lepanto Institute) – On January 12, OnePeterFive and The Lepanto Institute reported that Liliane Ploumen, a Dutch politician and international abortion activist, was received into the Order of St. Gregory by the Vatican in 2017 — a pontifical honor given for “meritorious service to the Church.” Multiple diplomatic sources around the Vatican have now confirmed to OnePeterFive and the Lepanto Institute that the award was given to Ploumen last year when she took part in an official state visit of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands to the Vatican in June of 2017.
Ploumen, who formerly served as the Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation for the Dutch government, started a progressive global initiative in 2017 called “She Decides.” Self-described as “a global movement”, SheDecides is designed to:
support the fundamental rights of girls and women to decide freely and for themselves about their sexual lives, including whether, when, with whom and how many children they have. This includes having access to modern contraception, to sexual and relationship literacy and safe abortion.
The SheDecides initiative came in response to the funding gap for “family planning” facilities around the world created after US President Donald Trump re-instated the Mexico City Policy, which blocks American federal funding for NGOs providing abortion services. Within six months, SheDecides — which has the support of 60 countries — had received pledges totaling $300 million (USD).
There is little official information available online about the Order of St. Gregory award, but one website detailing its history indicates that it is “typically made on the recommendation of Diocesan Bishops or Archbishops or Nuncios for special merit or service.” This may be the reason why Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht felt compelled to issue a statement indicating that he had no knowledge of or involvement in the bestowal of Ploumen’s award:
Sources say that routine exchange of decorations was made between officials from the Vatican and from the Dutch delegation, and that the only reason Ploumen received the award was because she received it as part of that group.
Nevertheless, in a video posted to YouTube, Ploumen was seen discussing the award, which she held as she spoke with an interviewer, saying that she received it “despite” the fact that she is pro-abortion.
A longer interview on BRN Newsradio in the Netherlands reveals additional assertions from Ploumen, in which she implies that the Vatican gave her the award as a personal “prize”, rather than as a pro-forma honor bestowed upon her entire delegation. She tells the interviewer that this was done even though she believes the Vatican was aware of her work for SheDecides, and that she sees it as confirmation of her work. With the help of the Lepanto Institute, the most relevant portion of the interview has been transcribed and translated into English:
BNR – And there is another prize, from the pope …
Lilianne Ploumen – Yes, I won another prize. I received a high award from the Pope.
BNR – For what you did for abortions?
Ploumen – Well, it doesn’t say that, but it is in itself interesting that it says it is for service/merits for society.
BNR – Well, that would be applicable to a lot of other people.
Ploumen – Yes, for sure, but the Vatican probably knows that I started “SheDecides” and they gave me this prize – very special.
BNR – What kind of prize is it, exactly?
Ploumen – Commander in the order of Gregorius.
BNR – Congrats.
Ploumen – Thank you.
BNR – It is rather progressive of the Pope.
Ploumen – Yes, very. And I am very happy with it.
BNR – Do you see it as confirmation of what you are doing for girls and women, for abortion?
Ploumen – Yes, that, and also, the last couple of years I invested a lot of time in establishing contacts with the Vatican.
BNR – Lobbying?
Ploumen – Yes, Lobbying. Especially since the Vatican, mainly with the previous popes, were very rigid when it comes to women’s rights. And that is not going to change in the short term, but perhaps there are some areas in which we can work together, and that is what I tried. For example, the Church is also against child marriages. For us, it may seem strange, but in a lot of countries, the Church has a strong influence. So, if a bishop can say that it is not a good idea to force a 14-year-old to marry, then that may help. For example, there is a bishop in Uganda who spoke out against homosexuality. Then the Vatican said, ‘Okay, we are not actively promoting homosexuality, but man is created as he is and we have to accept him in that way.’
BNR – And that is how pragmatic you are, too. If the Vatican can help you with something that is not even really what they stand for, then …
Ploumen – Yes, of course. Make no mistake. They have a lot of influence, of course, via the religious community, but they are also part of negotiations within the United Nations. And then it makes a difference if they are on the side of Saudi Arabia or on the side of the Netherlands … and then I’d rather have them on our side.
Sources close to the story insist that the award was not given to Ploumen in response to her work, but only as an exchange during a state visit. Given this, her answers to BNR appear to be an embellishment, at the very least.
Questions have also arisen as to why the Vatican did not perform a vetting process on recipient’s of the award, a question made more pressing by the fact that Ploumen was already something a known quantity in Rome, having met with Pope Francis in 2015 to discuss climate change. It bears repeating that Ploumen said in the interview above that for “the last couple of years [she] invested a lot of time in establishing contacts with the Vatican.”
Adding fuel to these questions, in a January 14 article at Crux, John Allen, Jr. wrote that Pope Francis is unlike his recent predecessors in that he is acutely aware of what is going on in his Vatican. Beginning with an anecdote of the pope making an unexpected personal response to a scheduling inquiry to the papal household from a bishop in one of his commissions, Allen wrote that the story illustrates that
Francis is remarkably well-informed about the nuts and bolts of actually running the Church. We’re talking about a pontiff who knew within hours that someone had called over asking about his schedule, and who acted immediately on that information.
After offering two additional examples of the pope’s personal involvement in the minutia of the Vatican, Allen writes:
What nobody disputes is the fact of the situation, which is that Francis just flat-out knows what’s going on. [emphasis added]