Earlier this week, news got out that Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to give out marriage licenses after the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, met with Pope Francis before he left Washington, D.C.“Just knowing the pope is on track with what we’re doing, and agreeing, you know, kind of validates everything,” Davis, an Apostolic Christian, told ABC News on Wednesday. She was given a rosary, and Pope Francis reportedly told her to “stay strong.”
The Vatican’s initial response would not look out of place in a CIA action thriller. “The Holy See is aware of the reports of Kim Davis meeting with the Holy Father,” a Vatican spokesperson said in a statement earlier this week. “The Vatican does not confirm the meeting, nor does it deny the meeting. There will be no further information given.” A few hours later, a slight revision: “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I will not comment on it further.”
On Friday, the Vatican further complicated the narrative laid out by Davis and her lawyers — and reinforced the fact that the pope rarely takes sides in a way useful to those who hope to use him as ideological ammunition, from the left or right. Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi released a statement on Friday noting, “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 meeting was reportedly organized by the Vatican Embassy in D.C. The pope also met with “several dozen” people at the Nunciature, the statement adds. “Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the pope’s characteristic kindness and availability.” In case the Vatican hadn’t already made it clear that it doesn’t want to talk about this anymore, Lombardi included a slight burn: “The only real audience granted by the pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.”
The English language assistant at the Holy See Press Office, Father Thomas Rosica, told the New York Times that the Vatican and the pope — who opposes same-sex marriage, but hardly spoke about the issue during his time in the U.S.— may have not been “aware of the full impact of the meeting. It is very difficult sometimes when you are looking at things in America from here.” He added to the Religion News Service that the pope might not have known everyone he was meeting with either.
During his flight back to the Vatican last week, Pope Francis was asked about cases similar to Kim Davis’s — although her name was never mentioned. “I can’t have in mind all the cases that can exist about conscientious objections,” he said, ” … but yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”
The Liberty Counsel, which is representing Davis during her ongoing legal battle over marriage licenses in Kentucky, also released a statement this morning, confirming that the great political battles of our time end not with a bang, but with a press release. “Despite a statement this morning by a Vatican official,” it begins, “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. … This meeting was a private meeting without any other members of the public present.”
Earlier this week, James Martin wrote a story for the Catholic magazine America about “seven points to keep in mind” when it comes to Kim Davis and the pope. His last point noted that “[m]eeting with the pope is a great honor, but it does not betoken a blanket blessing on ‘everything’ one does. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pope Francis also met Mark Wahlberg, and that does not mean that he liked Ted.”