Controversial Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis announced on Wednesday that she privately met with Pope Francis during his trip to America. Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi later confirmed the meeting but refused to provide any details. The pope was in Washington for most of Thursday, flying to New York later in the day. Davis, the clerk of courts for Rowan County, and her husband, Joe Davis, met the pope at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, lawyer Mat Staver told USA TODAY.
She and the pontiff hugged, and he presented her and her husband with two rosaries, which she is giving to her parents, who are Catholic, Liberty Counsel said. Liberty Counsel later released a photo of two rosaries, one white and one black that it said were the prayer beads the pope had given to Davis. Davis was in Washington for the Values Voter Summit, where the Family Research Council, which opposes same-sex marriage, presented her with an award for defying the federal judge.
Davis became a conservative superstar after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying it would conflict with her Christian beliefs. She later spent five nights in jail and was later allowed to return to work after agreeing to not interfere with the issuing of licenses. Davis released a statement that she was humbled by the meeting.
I never thought I would meet the pope,” she said. “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. Pope Francis was kind, genuinely caring and very personable.”
Davis lawyer Staver said the meeting sent a worldwide message that Pope Francis stands on the side of religious freedom. Gay marriage, however, was not a topic that Francis dwelled on during his six-day, three-city tour of the United States. Rather, he delved frequently into immigration, climate change and fighting poverty.
Francis appeared to back Davis when asked about the issue during his return flight from the U.S. on Monday. He said people, including government workers, have the right not to do something in which their conscience objects. He did not specifically mention Davis by name.
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 pope reportedly said.
Mr. Staver added that he, the Davises and Vatican officials had agreed to keep the meeting secret until the pope had left the United States because, he said, “we didn’t want the pope’s visit to be focused on Kim Davis.” The meeting was first reported by Inside the Vatican, a publication edited by Robert Moynihan, an American who has covered the Vatican for many years.