The Lepanto Institute teamed up with OnePeterFive and Maike Hickson in compiling this report.
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]
Under the watchful gaze of a pope with that level of awareness, it’s difficult to be dismissive of Ploumen’s award as a simple oversight, which lends some Vatican watchers to wonder if perhaps her bold claims about the award being confirmation of her work might have some truth to them. Similarly, the lack of a clarifying statement from the Vatican, days after the award was made public, casts suspicion on theories that it was a simple error.
OnePeterFive made a request for comment on Ploumen’s receipt of the award from both the Vatican and the Dutch government over the weekend, but had not received any statement by press time.
Catholics around the world have reacted to the story of Ploumen’s receipt of the award with shock and concern. A petition has already been started on one website, asking the pope to revoke the honor. With text in both English and French, the petition simply states, “We ask to his holiness the revocation of the papal honour of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great to Lilianne Ploumen”, with the reason given that she is a “militant” abortionist. Father Peter West, an outspoken and popular American priest who formerly served as Vice President for Missions at Human Life International has made a similar request on his Facebook page, which has nearly 12,000 followers.
“I call on Pope Francis,” Fr. Peter writes, “to rescind the title title of Commander in the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great given to Lilianne Ploumen due to her pro-abortion activism. The unborn are truly the least among us today. The Church must not honor those who believe they have a right to choose to kill them.” He went on to say that such an award would be equivalent to Our Lord bestowing an award on Herod.
Others have raised questions about why papal awards originally designated as means of recognizing special merit among the faithful are being given out as little more than tokens of hospitality during state visits at all.
Although Ploumen may be the most egregious example of the Order of St. Gregory being given to undeserving recipients, she is not alone. In 2008, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn awarded Renate Brauner, then-Deputy Mayor of Vienna, the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great. Brauner, too, was a notorious supporter of abortion at the time of her award. The late British media personality Jimmy Saville — accused after his death of raping or sexually abusing as many as 300 people, including children as young as nine years old — received the Order of St. Gregory from Pope John Paul II in 1990 for his charitable work. A formal request was initiated by the Catholic Church in England in 2012 to have the honor posthumously revoked. The Vatican’s response at the time came from papal spokesman Father Frederico Lombardi, who said that the Holy See “firmly condemns the horrible crimes of sexual abuse of minors”, adding that the revelations about Savile were “very grave”. Nevertheless, Lombardi stated that “As there does not exist any permanent official list of persons who have received papal honours in the past, it is not possible to strike anyone off a list that does not exist.”
In a Vatican plagued by scandals and associated ever-more closely with abortion and population control advocates like Emma Bonino, Jeffrey Sachs, and Paul Erlich, the revelation of Ploumen’s award adds insult to injury for Catholics already reeling from a seemingly endless torrent of disgraceful conduct by Vatican officials under the appearance of approval from the pope.