After days of controversy over news that Pope Francis met with Kentucky county clerk and same-sex marriage opponent Kim Davis during the pontiff’s U.S. visit, the Vatican has announced that the meeting “should not be considered a form of support of her position.”
When reports surfaced Tuesday evening that Francis and Davis had met, many conservatives and progressives — including Davis herself — were quick to interpret the rendezvous as implicit support for Davis, who was recently jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But the Vatican was tight-lipped on details of the meeting, initially refusing to even acknowledge that it happened, much less explain what it meant.
On Friday morning, however, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi broke the Holy See’s silence and attempted to temper wild speculation about the event. The Vatican clarified that the pope did, in fact, meet with Davis, but that the meeting was not an endorsement of her willingness to deny marriage licenses to LGBT couples while serving as a government official.
“Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the [Vatican embassy] to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City,” read the statement, as provided to ThinkProgress by the Vatican’s English language media attaché. “Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the Pope at the [Vatican embassy] was with one of his former students and his family.”
“The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” the statement read.
In addition, an unnamed “senior Vatican official” reportedly told Reuters that there was a “sense of regret” among the papal curia over the meeting, which has diverted attention away from the pope’s otherwise successful trip to the United States.
Although the statement will likely allay the concerns of many progressives who were initially upset by reports of the meeting, questions remain as to why the embassy invited Davis to meet Francis in the first place. One theory, as explained to ThinkProgress by Vatican expert Thomas Reese on Thursday, appears to be bolstered by the Vatican’s statement: Perhaps a lone bishop or Vatican representative “brought her to the Vatican embassy here in Washington and simply presented her to the pope without much internal discussion.”
An unnamed “highly placed” Vatican source told a Chicago CBS affiliate that the pope was “blindsided” by the encounter, saying Francis was “exploited” by others who orchestrated a “meeting that never should have taken place.”
The Liberty Counsel, the legal team representing Davis, also unveiled a lengthy press release in response to the Vatican’s statement. Although Davis told ABC news on Wednesday that the meeting “kind of validates everything,” the conservative legal outfit insisted that “neither Kim Davis nor Liberty Counsel ever said the meeting was an endorsement of her legal case.” They also claimed the meeting and the pope’s recent comments about conscientious objection still indicate papal support for Davis’ actions.
“Despite a statement this morning by a Vatican official, the Pope’s own words about conscientious objection being a human right and his private meeting with Kim Davis indicate support for the universal right of conscientious objection, even for government officials,” the statement read. “The meeting with Kim Davis was initiated by the Vatican, and the private meeting occurred at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C. … This meeting was a private meeting without any other members of the public present.”
It’s unclear whether the Liberty Counsel’s description of the meeting as private contradicts the Vatican’s, which said that the pope “met with several dozen persons” at the embassy.
While Francis does not endorse Davis’ position, the Catholic Church does maintain its historic opposition to same-sex relationships, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “objectively disordered.” The Church in the United States has also shown an increasing willingness to fire employees of Catholic institutions who are openly gay, avoiding nondiscrimination laws by invoking the so-called “ministerial exception.”
This post was updated with new quotes and information from Vatican officials and the Liberty Counsel.