The same day that Kim Davis’ lawyers at the Liberty Counsel had to admit that there was never a 100,000-person prayer rally for her in Peru, they issued a bold new claim: she met with Pope Francis when they were both in Washington, D.C. last week. Here is everything we currently know about this alleged meeting:
The story was first reported by a conservative Catholic magazine.
Kim Davis apparently spoke with Robert Moynihan, founder of the Catholic magazine Inside the Vatican. His website has largely been down due to the influx of traffic since he published her story Tuesday evening. He was not present, but he tells Davis’ story in his own words, oddly emphasizing that it was kept secret because it would spark controversy, but that it definitely happened:
The meeting is a fact, and facts are the material of which reality is composed, and human beings, though they cannot, as T.S. Eliot said, bear very much reality, strive nevertheless to live in reality. And reality cannot be understood without knowledge of the facts. Of what really happened.
Moynihan also explained that there is, to his knowledge, no recording or photographs of the conversation. But, he insisted that “Vatican sources have confirmed to me that this meeting did occur; the occurrence of this meeting is not in doubt.”
The Vatican will neither confirm nor deny that the meeting occurred, and says it will not issue any further comment.
After fielding repeated late-night inquiries form reporters, the Vatican announced Wednesday morning that they could neither confirm nor deny the alleged meeting happening, saying they wouldn’t comment further. ThinkProgress received a similar response from the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See: “The embassy does not deny that the meeting took place, but will not make any further comments on the subject.”
Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, later told the New York Times that he “did not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add,” which led the New York Times to conclude that he had “confirmed the meeting.” To BuzzFeed, Lombardi said that, “yes,” the meeting took place — an apparent confirmation — but then repeated the line, “I don’t deny the meeting has taken place. but I have no comment to add.” According to David Gibson of Religion News Service, “it wasn’t actually a ‘yes’.”
The response is highly unusual for the Vatican, which typically either denies false accusations or issues additional details and transcripts of the pope’s visits with dignitaries — and even everyday people. However, the Vatican has been tight-lipped about at least one private meeting in the past: In January, the Vatican refused to confirm a private meeting between Pope Francis and a transgender man, although the rendezvous was widely covered in the press.
In addition, the Vatican’s close-hold on information appears to contradict the Liberty Counsel’s claim that the Holy See would be releasing images of the meet up in the near future.
The alleged meeting was not long.
Both Kim and her husband Joe Davis were present for the meeting. According to her account to Moynihan, Pope Francis spoke in English with no interpreter, they hugged, and he gave them both rosaries that he had blessed. They promised each other that they’d pray for each other. “Thank you for your courage,” he allegedly said. “Stay strong.” That was all that happened.
The only other source of information about the alleged meeting is Kim Davis’ lawyers, and they don’t have the best track record.
After Moynihan’s first report, Davis’ attorneys at the Liberty Counsel have provided all of the other information about what may have happened. They issued their own press release, which contained no new information except another comment from Davis and a comment from Mat Staver, chairman and spokesperson for the anti-gay hate group. Staver has since given interviews to CBS News and the New York Times. Davis recounted her experience in an ABC News interview but offered no new details, making Staver the only source of information about the meeting, even though he wasn’t present for it.
The announcement that Davis had met with Pope Francis came mere hours after the Liberty Counsel had to admit that their claim of a massive prayer rally for her in Peru was fabricated. They tried to pin the mistake on Peruvian Congressman Julio Rosas, who allegedly provided them with the photographic evidence — a photo of a convention that took place back in May of 2014. On Tuesday, Rosas explained in an interview with Perú21 that “we always pray in our homes for other Christians,” but he denied any account of a stadium rally for Davis. Thus, there remains a question of where exactly the Liberty Counsel got the idea that the picture was a rally for Davis — a point they adamantly defended at first — severely undermining how trustworthy the organization’s claims might be.
Staver’s additional details about the logistics of the Davis’ visit to the Vatican embassy are, as such, similarly tenuous. He claims that the couple rode to the embassy in a black SUV, and that Kim “made her hair up in a different way” so that it would not be the recognizable style from her mugshot. Though Liberty Counsel was eager to report that the meeting had happened immediately, “we wanted to keep that quiet to respect the Pope’s broader message because we didn’t want the Pope’s visit to be overshadowed with Kim Davis.” Apparently the meeting was scheduled “days in advance” and “was confirmed the evening before and the morning of.” Though he says Davis would have happily traveled to D.C. to meet with Pope Francis, “it was just happenstance” that she was already in town for the Values Voter Summit, where the Family Research Council honored her with a “Cost of Discipleship Award.”
Davis’ lawyers say the alleged meeting was organized through Vatican officials, not through any American bishops.
Davis’ legal team told Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times that the alleged meeting was arranged at the request of Vatican officials, not the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the head Catholic authority in the United States. The USCCB has not made any public statement about whether the meeting occurred or how much information they had that it would.
Joseph Kurtz, the archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky, and the president of the USCCB, declined to comment on the meeting when speaking to The Atlantic.
If true, the reports call into question the pope’s own comments about the Kim Davis case.
During his flight back to the Holy See from the United States earlier this week, Francis was directly asked by an ABC News reporter about the Kim Davis situation. The reporter did not mention Davis by name, but asked the pontiff whether he supports government officials who marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Francis responded by saying “I can’t have in mind all the cases that can exist about conscientious objection,” before launching into a general defense of religious liberty and conscientious objection. Some viewed the comments as a tacit defense of Davis, but others noted his unwillingness to address her specific case — presumably because he was unaware of it.
But if Francis did, in fact, meet with Davis ahead of time in a meeting organized by Vatican officials, it would cast doubt on the suggestion that he is unaware of her situation.
Staver said as much during the CBS interview.
“There was speculation — was he thinking of, did he know about the Kim Davis situation?” he said. “And the fact of the matter is, he not only knew about Kim Davis, but he’d already met with Kim Davis.”
No one was initially willing to release photos of the event — or even pictures of the rosaries.
When asked about photos from the meeting, Staver said that Davis did not take any, but noted that the Vatican would unveil pictures soon.
But the Vatican’s subsequent close-hold on information appears to contradict this, and implies that no photos will be released.
There were also questions around the rosaries allegedly given to the Davis’ by Pope Francis, which have yet to be seen by the press. Wednesday morning, the Liberty Counsel provided the following photo of two rosaries with the Vatican seal to The Atlantic:
This post will be updated as more information is revealed — if more information is revealed.