The Vatican’s chief spokesman said Wednesday that he would “not deny” that the Pope met a controversial county official while he was in Washington, D.C.
According to reports on Tuesday, Pope Francis met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed in September for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Pontiff reportedly thanked Davis for her courage and told her to “stay strong.”
“I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no comments to add,” Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said in a statement issued late Sept. 30.
Robert Moynihan, editor of Inside the Vatican, spoke with Davis about the meeting, which she says took place in Washington last Thursday, just before the Pope flew to New York City. Vatican sources also confirmed to him that the meeting took place.
Davis’ attorney Mathew Staver told CBS News that the two met at the Vatican nunciature in DC. Davis and her husband, Joe, were in town to receive an award from the Family Research Council.
“The Pope spoke in English,” she told me. “There was no interpreter. ‘Thank you for your courage,’ Pope Francis said to me. I said, ‘Thank you, Holy Father.’ I had asked a monsignor earlier what was the proper way to greet the Pope, and whether it would be appropriate for me to embrace him, and I had been told it would be okay to hug him. So I hugged him, and he hugged me back. It was an extraordinary moment. ‘Stay strong,’ he said to me. Then he gave me a rosary as a gift, and he gave one also to my husband, Joe. I broke into tears. I was deeply moved. “Then he said to me, ‘Please pray for me.’ And I said to him, ‘Please pray for me also, Holy Father.’ And he assured me that he would pray for me.” Joe told Kim that he would give his rosary to her mother, who is a Catholic. And Kim then said that she would give her rosary to her father, who is also a Catholic.
Davis is a minister in the Apostolic Christian church. Staver said that Vatican officials had been aware of the Davis controversy, and that the meeting had been arranged through them, not through bishops or the bishops’ conference in the United States, said the New York Times. He would not identify the Vatican officials.
On his flight back to Rome, reporters asked Pope Francis whether he supports individuals, including government officials, “who say they cannot in good conscience… abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example in issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.” The Pontiff called conscientious objection “a human right” and said that this right extends to government employees.
Weighing in on the meeting was longtime Vatican watcher John L. Allen. Along with an unscheduled stop the Pope made in Washington to see the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Davis encounter means that Francis “has expressed personal support to leading symbols of the two most contentious fronts in America’s religious freedom debates – the contraception mandates imposed by the Obama administration, and conscientious objection on gay marriage,” Allen wrote.
But he cautioned against reading too much into the encounter:
First of all, the fact that someone arranged a brief encounter between Francis and Davis does not necessarily mean that Francis initiated the contact, or even that he necessarily grasps all the dimensions of her case. By her own account it was an extremely brief greeting, just long enough for the pope to tell Davis to “stay strong” and to give her a rosary. Asking for prayers and offering a blessed rosary to individuals following a meeting is a customary gesture for Pope Francis. It would be over-interpreting things to read the meeting as a blanket endorsement of everything Davis has said or done.