The honour handed to abortion activist Lilianne Ploumen was standard diplomatic practice, the Vatican said

The Vatican has distanced itself from the views of Lilianne Ploumen, a Dutch abortion advocate who was made a Dame in the Pontifical Order of St Gregory the Great.

A spokeswoman said the award was “diplomatic practice” when an official is part of a delegation visiting the Pope, and has nothing to do with Ploumen’s views.

Ploumen, who served as Development Minister until last year, launched an international campaign to support abortion after the US cut off funding for NGOs which provide, facilitate or campaign for abortion.

She has also said that in “the fight for women’s rights… Sexual and reproductive rights are the main battleground.”

[Abortion campaigner says she is ‘very honoured’ by pontifical award]

Since receiving the award, Ploumen has suggested that it showed the Vatican was being a little more “progressive”. When asked by Dutch radio station BNR whether she received the award because of her stance, she responded: “Well, it doesn’t say that, but it is in itself interesting that it says it is for service/merits for society.”

When the presenter pointed out that the same would apply to many other people, she said: “Yes, for sure, but the Vatican probably knows that I started ‘She Decides’ and they gave me this prize – very special.”

She added that she saw it as confirmation of her work on abortion, and agreed it was “very progressive” of the Pope to award it to her.

However, the Vatican has distanced itself from her political views, saying the award was a matter of diplomatic routine around the visit of a head of state. A spokeswoman said the award was “in keeping with the diplomatic practice of exchanging honours between delegations during official visits by heads of state or government to the Vatican.”

“Therefore, it is not at all an endorsement of the political views in favour of abortion or birth control that Ms Ploumen promotes,” she added.

On Monday, Cardinal Wim Eijk of Utrecht, the most senior active cleric in the Netherlands, distanced himself from the award, saying he was “not involved” in the decision and was “unaware of the fact that this papal award was requested” for Ploumen.