Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed after defying the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage by refusing to fulfill her duty to issue marriage licenses, secretly met with Pope Francis during his visit to the United States.
After Davis's lawyer Mathew Staver, of the Christian legal organization Liberty Counsel, revealed to CBS News on Tuesday night that she was taken undercover to the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC, Vatican chief spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi took a page from the CIA's media notes and said that he could neither confirm nor deny the report and that there would be no further statement.
But when Davis boasted of the meeting in a nationally televised interview with ABC News on Wednesday morning and coverage of the clandestine meeting spread, Lombardi confirmed the private audience to theNew York Times, but again declined to elaborate.
Davis told ABC that she and her husband met the pontiff last Thursday after receiving a surprise call from a church official. To keep a low profile, Davis went to the Vatican embassy in a sports utility vehicle with her hair in a different style than her normal look, Staver told CBS, adding that he was not present. There was no word on whether she wore her hair up or had it curled.
"I was crying. I had tears coming out of my eyes," Davis said. "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 grabbed it, and I hugged him, and he hugged me and he said, 'Thank you for your courage,'" she said, adding that the encounter "kind of validates everything" about her actions in recent weeks.
The pope 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 the more accommodating and 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."
"Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family," the pope told US lawmakers, just feet away from a bench of Supreme Court Justices, who earlier this year legalized same-sex marriage across the land.
Upon his return home, Francis made bigger waves when he remarked that government officials have an inherent, "human right" to object to duties that violate their conscience — a reference that appeared aimed at the controversy surrounding Davis's refusal to grant wedding licenses to homosexuals. The Catholic Church has a long-held opposition to same-sex marriage.
"Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right," the pope said. "I can't have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right."
Davis has maintained that, despite being an elected public official, her beliefs as an Apostolic Christian prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Conservative Christians, including some Republican presidential candidates, have said Davis is standing up for religious freedom.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which went to court to ensure same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses in Rowan County, has argued that she has a responsibility as an official to issue the licenses, regardless of her views. Granting such licenses is a clerical rather than religious act, so critics of her defiance point to the separation of church and state in public affairs.
The ACLU, in papers filed on September 21 with the judge hearing the case, asked the court to require Davis to stop making alterations to the licenses, such as removing any reference to the Rowan County clerk's office.