During his 10-day trip to the Unites States, Pope Francis met in secret with Kim Davis, the Kentucky court clerk jailed this month after defying a court order and refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
According to Dr. Robert Moynihan, founding editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, the pope met privately with Davis on Thursday at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., after he addressed Congress and just before his flight to New York City.
On Wednesday morning, a Vatican spokesman confirmed to the New York Times that Francis and Davis met, but he would not offer any more details about the meeting.
Inside the Vatican‘s site went offline temporarily late Tuesday, though Davis reportedly gave Moynihan this account of her meeting with Pope Francis:
“The Pope spoke in English. 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.”
Davis, an Apostolic Christian, says she was acting on her faith when she turned away several gay couples seeking marriage licenses last month at the Rowan County clerk’s office in Morehead, Kentucky. After ignoring a judge’s order to issue the licenses, she was jailed for five days for contempt of court.
Moynihan, the author of two Pope Francis biographies, theorized on his website that the secret nature of the meeting was to avoid controversy. “The Vatican evidently feared the ‘politicization’ of a ‘pastoral trip’ which clearly wished to emphasize the encounter with Jesus Christ, with the poor, with the faithful, with the handicapped, with children, and with all Americans of whatever background,” he said.
A similar account of events was published on the website of the nonprofit Liberty Counsel, a Christian law firm and ministry, which is chaired by Davis’ attorney, Mathew D. Staver. “Not only did Pope Francis know of Kim Davis, he personally met with her to express his support,” Staver said.
The Vatican’s press office did not immediately return a request for comment.
The pope appeared to endorse Davis’s actions during his return flight to Rome, telling reporters in Italian: “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right.”
The law must respect conscientious objectors, he said, “otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying: ‘This right has merit, this one does not.’”
Update 8:35am CT, Sept. 30: Rev. Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman, told Reuters on Wednesday that he would neither confirm nor deny that the pope met Davis. There will be no further statement on the matter, Lombardi said.
Update 8:57am CT, Sept. 30: The Vatican has now confirmed to the New York Times that Pope Francis did, in fact, meet with Kim Davis. He offered no details about their meeting.
H/T Inside the Vatican | Illustration by Max Fleishman