No, you’re not reading a headline from the Onion. According to multiple sources, the Vatican has rejected the Bulgarian ambassador, Kiril Marichkov, leaving the post vacant since March.

It’s not because Marichkov is unqualified: he’s a successful lawyer who holds two degrees and speaks five languages, including Italian. It’s not because they think he has some kind of improper pedigree: the 39-year-old is the grandson of Bulgaria’s first ambassador to the Holy See after Bulgaria’s communist government fell and relations between the two countries were re-established in 1990. And he’s married to a woman, so there’s nothing about his sexuality that would appear to offend the Vatican’s regressive sensibilities.

Marichkov’s “crime?” He wrote a highly successful novel, Clandestination, that includes a depiction of gay sex. Seriously.

The Daily Telegraph, a right-leaning UK newspaper, reports that Marichkov’s critically acclaimed, bestselling book was nominated for Bulgaria’s national book award and tells the story of Ivan, a young man who flees eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and seeks refuge in Rome. He falls on hard times, and according to the Independent, “eventually prostitutes himself for €50 with an Italian (on page 218).” The book apparently ends with Ivan on his knees in a church begging for forgiveness, but that clearly wasn’t enough to assuage the Vatican’s anger — the nation refused to welcome Marichkov after he was appointed by the Bulgarian government.

Thus far, Bulgaria has also refused to appoint a replacement candidate for the ambassadorship, and the two states are currently locked in an increasingly bitter diplomatic standoff. From the Independent:

La Repubblica newspaper said yesterday that the blocking of Mr Maritchkov’s appointment had “clamorously frozen relations between the two countries” – almost to the extent of the diplomatic breakdown that occurred when Italian investigators touted a Bulgarian link in the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in May 1981.

All because the Vatican insists on making a point that it’s already made abundantly clear: it really, really, reeeeally hates gay people.

Sometimes, truth truly is stranger than fiction.