Many may be shocked that Pope Francis took a few moments out of his love-fest tour of the East Coast of America to meet with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk and religious zealot turned gay marriage martyr. But this is a pope who has made it his mantra to support religious freedom at all costs and, while it might seem like blatant hypocrisy that a pope who preaches social justice can also embrace someone so visibly and vocally anti-gay, keep in mind that he is Catholic, after all.
The pope’s vision of social equality simply does not extend to LGBT people despite his famous “Who am I to judge” moment during his first apostolic trip, when he was asked what he thought about a devout gay priest. In America last week, the cheering crowds who praised his inspirational words about supporting the poor and persecuted were also cheering a pope who, by action at least, supports anti-gay discrimination.
Francis is also not just the pope of the people, he is the pope of prisoners and persecuted Christians. He has visited Christians persecuted for their beliefs and prisoners on each of his 10 apostolic journeys. In Philadelphia he shook hands and embraced 100 prisoners being held for everything from murder to petty crimes.
It could be argued that Davis, whatever you think of her, fits the bill as both—as a Christian jailed for refusing to do her job because of her religious belief.
Lest we forget, despite the fact that this pope does preach acceptance for all, that acceptance clearly does have its limits. He does not actually support same-sex marriage, siding instead with the Church’s long-standing view that a family consists of a married man and woman who don’t use birth control and who spend every Sunday at Mass. “The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life,” Francis said during his apostolic visit to the Philippines last year. “These realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces, which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation.”
The meeting with Davis, which the Holy See press office spent Wednesday waffling between “not confirming or denying” before finally confirming by clearly “not denyin,g” apparently took place in the Holy See’s Embassy to the United States in Washington, sometime after the pontiff addressed Congress and before his late afternoon flight to New York City. Davis’s attorneys at Liberty Counsel say the meeting was initiated by “Vatican Authorities” though the Vatican press office in Rome told The Daily Beast they will “not comment further on this matter.”
Davis, who is not Catholic, described the scene to Vatican expert Robert Moynihan, who edits the uber-Catholic blog Inside the Vatican. “The Pope spoke in English,” she told Moynihan, according to his blog. “There was no interpreter. ‘Thank you for your courage,’ Pope Francis said to me. I said, ‘Thank you, Holy Father.’”
Francis, or more likely one of his representatives, then presented Davis and her husband, Joe, with two blessed rosaries, a picture of which CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted out, and which Davis’s lawyers say she will give to her Catholic parents.
Davis also told Moynihan that she was concerned about protocol. “I had asked a monsignor earlier what was the proper way to greet the Pope, and whether it would be appropriate for me to embrace him, and I had been told it would be okay to hug him,” she said. “So I hugged him, and he hugged me back. It was an extraordinary moment. ‘Stay strong,’ he said to me. Then he gave me a rosary as a gift, and he gave one also to my husband, Joe. I broke into tears. I was deeply moved.”
On the flight back from the United States on Sunday, Terry Moran from ABC News asked the pope on behalf of the English-language journalists on board whether he “supported those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Do you support those kinds of claims of religious liberty?”
Francis replied, “I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection. But, yes, I can say the 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. Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying ‘This right that has merit, this one does not.’ It [conscientious objection] is a human right. It always moved me when I read, and I read it many times, when I read the Chanson de Roland, when the people were all in line and before them was the baptismal font and they had to choose between the baptismal font or the sword. They had to choose. They weren’t permitted conscientious objection. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights.”
ABC’s Moran followed up with the question: “Would that include government officials as well?” Francis replied, “It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”
Davis, who coincidentally gave her first interview on the topic to ABC, said, “I was crying. I had tears coming out of my eyes…I’m just a nobody, so it was really humbling to think he would want to meet or know me.”
“I put my hand out and he reached and he grabbed it, and I hugged him and he hugged me,” Davis told ABC. “And he said, ‘Thank you for your courage.’”