VATICAN CITY — It has undoubtedly been a long week for the Vatican press office since the news that Pope Francis met Kim Davis in what was described as a private meeting in Washington, D.C., on September 24 after his historic address to Congress. The meeting, which Davis’s lawyers implied was a secret rendezvous complete with a warm hug from the pope and words of encouragement, was apparently just a meet and greet of the kind Francis and other dignitaries do rather blindly.
On Friday, undoubtedly succumbing to stalker-like pressure from the Vatican press corps in Rome and beyond, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi finally clarified the circumstances of the apparent non-event: “The brief meeting between Mrs. Kim Davis and Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. has continued to provoke comments and discussion,” Lombardi scolded in his statement, in what was seen by many as a not-so-subtle attempt at damage control.
Then news broke of another secret meeting, this one with a long-time friend of Francis, Yayo Grassi, who is in a same-sex relationship. The timing of the revelation led to speculation that the Vatican wanted to balance out the situation. According to the Vatican, the only authentic papal audience granted by Francis to anyone while he was in Washington was to Grassi. Davis, who did received a blessed rosary from the pontiff, got a papal greeting and blessing, not an audience.
Lombardi, in his follow-up, made it clear that Francis often meets with same-sex couples. "Mr. Yayo Grassi, a former Argentine student of Pope Francis, who had already met other times in the past with the Pope, asked to present his mother and several friends to the Pope during the Pope’s stay in Washington, D.C.," Lombardi said in the statement. "As noted in the past, the Pope, as pastor, has maintained many personal relationships with people in a spirit of kindness, welcome and dialogue."
Regarding the Davis meeting, Lombardi was far more precise, “In order to contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired I am able to clarify the following points: Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City. Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.”
Perhaps more importantly to the reputation of the popular pontiff, Lombardi added: “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.”
That’s settled. Or not. There are still a number of unanswered questions, namely, did Francis know who Davis was and why was the meeting kept quiet, especially from the Vatican-accredited press who traveled with the pope? While Lombardi says he did not “enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis,” it’s unclear whether he was aware of them at all. Francis surely doesn’t need “fillers” for the audiences at his appearances, so not everyone gets a front row seat, figuratively speaking, to meet the pope. Surely with so many people clamoring for his attention, Francis would have been told a little bit about who the people in the greeting line were, especially a non-Catholic like Davis who belongs to the Apostolic Pentecostal church, which isn’t exactly pro-Catholic.
Those who didn’t want the pope to meet Davis will breathe a sigh of relief that the pope apparently didn’t actually seek out Davis as her attorneys at Liberty Council announced in an article on their website entitled “Pope Francis Met Privately With Kim Davis and Encouraged Her to ‘Stay Strong’.” But someone got her into the Vatican embassy, which was on lock-down since that’s where the pontiff was sojourning.
Davis’s lawyer Mat Staver still stands by his declaration that "Not only did Pope Francis know of Kim Davis, he personally met with her to express his support.” It is a fact that the pope doesn’t say “stay strong” to just everyone he meets, if he said that, instead he often asks them to pray for him, which he also did in this case, according to Davis. But “stay strong”—again, if that’s what the pope really said—is a curious greeting for someone who didn’t know the particulars, or may reflect what he was told as she was introduced.
The Vatican statement will do little to quell the many conspiracy theories that include rumors of a holy coup against the pontiff by evil conservatives duping him in an attempt to sully his reputation ahead of the Grand Synod to begin on Sunday. The pope has a mind of his own, but he is one of the most advised leaders in the world, especially on the U.S. visit, which was planned down to the minute with the help of the powerful American bishops, some of whom are clearly at odds with the Francis approach to the church.
It should also be noted, as we’ve reported in The Daily Beast, that the pontiff’s attitude toward same-sex marriage is far from what the LGBT community would hope, and some believe.
And finally, the statement does little to answer the very basic question about just who else was in the group of “several dozen persons” who were apparently with Davis and her husband when they were at the Vatican embassy. Surely a witness to such an historical and hysterical event would have come forward by now to clarify just what contact the pontiff and the gay marriage martyr had.
At a briefing on the logistics of the Grand Synod on Friday, Lombardi was pressured to give a few more details about just what the pope knew, and how Davis was invited to the embassy reception line. “This press conference is about the synod and not Kim Davis,” he said. “I have nothing more to say on the matter.”
—Article updated Saturday, October 3, 2015