No photo — official, selfie or otherwise — of an encounter has emerged. But same-sex marriage-opposing Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis purportedly met with Pope Francis during his visit to the United States.
The claim came from the Liberty Counsel — billed as an “international nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989″ on its Web site — that represents Davis in her ongoing legal struggles with marriage licenses in Rowan County. Davis was jailed for six days this month after refusing to issue any marriage licenses after the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year legalizing gay marriage nationwide.
In a press release, the organization said Davis and her husband met “privately” with Francis at the Vatican Embassy in Washington on Sept. 24. The pair reportedly chatted about bravery, hugged and exchanged promises of prayer.
“During the meeting Pope Francis said, ‘Thank you for your courage,’” according to the press release. “Pope Francis also told Kim Davis, ‘Stay strong.’ He held out his hands and asked Kim to pray for him. Kim held his hands and said, ‘I will. Please pray for me,’ and the Pope said he would. The two embraced.”
Davis was elated.
“I was humbled to meet Pope Francis,” she said in the press release. “Of all people, why me?”
She added: “I never thought I would meet the Pope. Who am I to have this rare opportunity? I am just a County Clerk who loves Jesus and desires with all my heart to serve him.” And: “Pope Francis was kind, genuinely caring, and very personable.”
For the Liberty Counsel, this reported face-time with the pope was a huge win. Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis — with his outspoken criticism of global warming and income inequality as well as his perceived support of the gay community (“Who am I to judge?”) — has become a favorite of some liberals. If Francis went so far as to meet with Davis, a hero to evangelicals and some Republican presidential candidates, it would represent a break from positions he has espoused on some hot-button issues in the national political conversation in the United States.
On the other hand, in remarks to reporters on his flight out of the country Monday, Francis offered comments that appeared to support Davis’s position on same-sex marriage. Francis said government employees had the “human right” to say they cannot discharge duties that they believe go against their conscience. The response was given to a reporter who specifically mentioned issuing marriage licenses to gay couples as an example.
“I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection,” the pope told reporters on the plane. “But, yes, I can say the conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right.”
Davis’s experience, her lawyer said, speaks to everyone.
“Kim Davis has become a symbol of this worldwide conflict between Christian faith and recent cultural challenges regarding marriage,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in the press release. “The challenges we face in America regarding the sanctity of human life, marriage, and religious freedom are the same universal challenges Christians face around the world. Religious freedom is a human right that comes from God. These values are shared in common by people of faith, and the threats to religious freedom are universal.”
In its press release, the Liberty Counsel linked, seemingly for confirmation of the meeting, to a post on Inside the Vatican, an “evangelical” publication in Rome founded in 1993.
Inside the Vatican is not to be confused with the well-respected Vatican Insider — but is not necessarily wrong, either. The publication cited “Vatican sources” in its somewhat mystical report.
“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,” Robert Moynihan wrote in a piece called “The Secret Meeting of the Papal Trip.” “And reality cannot be understood without knowledge of the facts. Of what really happened.”
The Vatican has yet to issue any comment on reports of a Davis meeting and, in the past, has often offered no comment on news stories about the pope’s conversations with private individuals. The pope’s schedule on Sept. 24 would seem to have enough time to accommodate a private meeting; Davis was in Washington at the Value Voters Summit last week on the day after the pontiff’s departure for New York City.
Staver, Davis’s attorney, told the New York Times photos of the meeting were expected soon. (Though the Times, it should be noted, initially incorrectly said the meeting was reported by “Vatican Insider,” not “Inside the Vatican.”)
“We didn’t want the pope’s visit to be focused on Kim Davis,” Staver said of the decision to delay the announcement.