Pope Francis faced criticism for sitting down with the Kentucky county clerk who made headlines after refusing to issue gay marriage licenses. But it turns out the pontiff also met with a gay couple at the Vatican Embassy in Washington during his visit to the US last week, the Vatican confirmed Friday.
News of the of gesture of outreach to the gay community emerged to the public amid the Vatican's attempts to smother controversy about a separate meeting the pope held with well-known American gay marriage opponent and Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, a meeting that the Vatican claimed in a statement today was not an endorsement of her opinions.
On September 23, the pontiff met with Yayo Grassi, a US-based Argentine caterer, and his male partner of 19 years, Iwan Bagus, and three other people for 15 minutes. Grassi, 67, has known the pope since the 1960s, when Pope Francis, 78, taught him literature and psychology at a high school in Argentina. The two have stayed in touch.
"What I can say is that he met with me knowing that I am gay and we had an extraordinary, very moving conversation," Grassi said.
Both Grassi and his partner posted a video of the encounter on their Facebook pages. The video shows Francis and his former student warmly embracing and chatting in Spanish in an ornate room in the embassy.
Grassi then introduces the pope one-by-one to three women and his partner. Francis appears to know Bagus, and they shake hands warmly and talk about having met earlier in Rome. At the end of their conversation, Francis embraces both men and kisses them on the cheek.
On Friday the Vatican said the visit with Grassi was "the only real audience" he gave out of dozens of citizen meetings, according to the New York Times. These sentiments come just days after Davis's lawyer Mathew Staver, of the Christian legal organization Liberty Counsel, revealed that his client was taken undercover to the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC. A Vatican chief spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi eventually confirmed the private audience to the New York Times, but again declined to elaborate.
Francis reportedly gave Davis a rosary, which she plans to give to her Catholic parents. Davis identifies as an Apostolic Christian. The Solid Rock Apostolic Church, which she attends, belongs to a Protestant movement known as Apostolic Pentecostalism, which rejects the Trinity in favor of an experience of God centered on Jesus. Followers believe that salvation is gained through baptism, repentance, and speaking in tongues.
The pope largely avoided the issue of same-sex marriage during his visit to three American cities in five days, delivering a message that seemed to highlight more progressive aspects of the Catholic Church. But he did end his historic speech to Congress in Washington — delivered on the same day he met with Davis — with a note on families, which he said are being "threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without."