Updated 9/30/2015 9:07 PM MDT.
The media is ablaze Wednesday after the Vatican confirmed a report that the previously jailed Kentucky County Clerk, Kim Davis, met secretly with the Pope last Thursday in Washington DC. Davis was in town to receive an award from a conservative group. In confirming the story, the Vatican said that the Pope met with many people on his trip and that does not constitute an endorsement of every person he spoke with.
Davis and her attorney broke the story Sunday after the Pontiff left U.S. soil. Davis’s attorneys said the delay was that they did not want to over-shadow the Pope’s visit. Opponents of same sex marriage, some Bishops and certain Republican presidential candidates are gleefully spinning the meeting nonetheless.
The Vatican confirmed that on last Thursday night, the Pope met privately with Davis. He is reported to have told her “to stay strong.” Davis, who is an Evangelical Christian, was raised Catholic, and she brought a Rosary her mother gave her as a child to the meeting. It is not clear who suggested that the Pope meet with Davis. The American Conference of Bishops is strongly opposed to the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage and they were hoping for the Pope to be more outspoken about the issue on his visit.
It appears that the Bishops had no part in the meeting, however. MSNBC reported Wednesday night that the meeting was arranged by the Papal Nuncio in Washington, Archbishop Vigano, an appointee of Pope Benedict and a staunch social conservative. The Bishops were not happy about it according to the report.
On the trip back to Rome, the Pope was asked by reporters about Kim Davis. He did not mention her by name, but said that conscientious objection is a basic human right and if the objector is a government official, their right to object must be respected. The Church has always supported conscientious objectors, usually in regard to military service. This is nothing new, and nothing unique to Pope Francis or Kim Davis. The Pope supports an official’s right to object based on their beliefs. He did not say an official could stay in office and defy civil law. If he believed they could, he would have stated that.
The important fact is that the Pope did not mention the Kim Davis meeting. It was held in private and not on the official schedule in contrast to his visit to a prison and a homeless shelter. If the Pope wanted to make a political statement, the story would have been leaked while the Pope was in the U.S. so the media could rail about it incessantly.
There has been no change in Church doctrine about same–sex marriage. The Pope, however, went out of his way to be welcoming to members of the LBGT community and to encourage Bishops and priests to do likewise. To the disappointment of the American Bishops, the Pope never referred to gay marriage or abortion directly. He did, however, take on the death penalty directly—in Congress and the UN. The fact he did not mention the meeting indicates it was not at the core of his message to Americans.
Pope Francis is not shy. He is very outspoken about the issues he feels strongly about, stating them in the White House, the Congress, and at the United Nations. He advocated for immigrants, refugees, the poor, income inequality and climate change—issues not universally popular with Republicans and others in those audiences.
The Pope did not dwell on same sex marriage, and never mentioned the saga of Kim Davis. Those who are spinning this issue to support their positions, or attack the Pope, should realize if the Pope felt strongly about Ms. Davis, he would have brought it up or posed for a photo with her.
Clearly, many Republicans were uncomfortable with the Pope’s strong, loud, and unambiguous stand against the death penalty; his clear and constant statements about climate change; and his statements about the poor, the marginalized, the homeless, refugees, and immigrants. Bringing the Kim Davis meeting up is a way to detract from the Pope’s real message.
In Congress, the Pope brought up the Golden Rule and was given a standing ovation. The devotion to the Golden Rule appears to have ended when the Pope’s plane went wheels-up. Perhaps the media should make a bigger deal about how quickly the Golden Rule was forgotten rather than the Pope’s meeting with a rising Republican star.