Hours after the Vatican announced that the pope’s meeting with anti-marriage equality Kentucky clerk Kim Davis “should not be considered a form of support of her position,” reports have emerged that Francis also met — and embraced — two other people that same day: A same-sex couple.
According to CNN’s Dan Burke, before the pontiff briefly encountered Davis on September 23, he had a closed-door meeting with longtime friend Yayo Grassi, an openly gay Argentinian man who has been in a same-sex relationship for 19 years. Grassi, who brought his partner along for the trip, said that the pope personally arranged the meeting weeks ahead of time via email.
“Three weeks before the trip, he called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug,” Grassi said.
The Apostolic Nunciature to the United States, or Vatican Embassy, initially would not confirm to ThinkProgress that Francis met with Grassi. But the Vatican has since released the following statement:
“Mr. Yayo Grassi, a former Argentine student of Pope Francis, who had already met other times in the past with the Pope, asked to present his mother and several friends to the Pope during the Pope’s stay in Washington, DC,” the statement read. “As noted in the past, the Pope, as pastor, has maintained many personal relationships with people in a spirit of kindness, welcome and dialogue.”
In addition, CNN points to the following video showing Francis embracing both Grassi and his partner.
Grassi claimed that his close relationship with pope was deftly acknowledged by the Vatican on Friday. In a statement released in response to speculation about the nature of the pope’s meeting with Davis, the Holy See said that “the only real audience granted by the Pope at the [Vatican embassy] was with one of his former students and his family.”
“That was me,” Grassi said.
Grass told CNN that he and his partner, Iwan, also met with the pope last year in Rome, and that Francis has never disparaged his sexuality.
“He has never been judgmental,” Grassi said. “He has never said anything negative.”
The news amounts to a radical about-face for the Vatican in less than 24 hours, after news of his visit with Davis resulted in what some commentators called a “PR nightmare” for the Holy See. The contrast between Francis’ close relationship with Grassi and his cursory relationship with Davis — a difference seemingly confirmed by the Vatican — is striking.
The visit with Grassi is also more in line with the conciliatory tone of Francis’ papacy, where the pontiff has taken pains to avoid LGBT issues — especially while in the United States. While he has not renounced the Catholic Church’s historic condemnation of same-sex relationships, Francis has sought to reorient the Church’s focus away from abortion and LGBT issues, and famously answered a question about gay priests by saying, “Who am I to judge?”
This post was updated to include the Vatican’s statement.