Behind the Scenes of Kim Davis's Meeting with Pope Francis

Pope Francis checks his watch as Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi stands beside him
Pope Francis and Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi

As LGBT Catholics express disappointment that Pope Francis refused to meet with them during his six-day visit to the U.S. but made time for an in-person meeting with defiantly antigay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, the clerk's right-wing attorney is bragging about the planning that went into the secret meeting. 

Davis, the embattled clerk of Rowan County, Ky., who continues to make headlines for her ongoing refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was secretly ushered into the Vatican Embassy in Washington last Thursday, claims Davis's attorney Mat Staver, chairman of the certified anti-LGBT hate group Liberty Counsel.

Along with her fourth husband, Joe, Davis reportedly disguised her appearance for her papal audience in a meeting carefully planned by Vatican officials, Staver told The New York Times. While it's unknown how exactly the couple and their attorney were surreptitiously shepherded into the embassy — out of view of the throng of onlookers and security constantly surrounding the pope — Staver said he drove the Davises to a prearranged location within or near the embassy, boasting to the Times that the top secret confab with the pope was “no mean feat” to arrange.

Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, suggested to the the Times that the pope's meeting with Davis in Washington was part of his preordained schedule, unlike Francis's well-publicized meeting last Friday with the Little Sisters of the Poor, which Lombardi said was a diversion from the pontiff's public schedule. 

“I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add,” Lombardi told Catholic News Service of the pope’s meeting with Davis, refusing to elaborate on what actually took place at the gathering.

For his part, Staver claimed that Davis’s meeting with the pope was not organized through American bishops. While he did not disclose who exactly proposed and arranged the meeting, Staver claimed that “Vatican officials had been aware of Ms. Davis’s jailing and […] the meeting had been arranged through them.”

Davis told ABC News that, while only lasting 15 minutes, her meeting with the pope — which included just herself, her husband, and a few Vatican attendants — culminated with hand-holding, embraces, and a statement of gratitude from the pope for her alleged courage:

“I put my hand out and he reached and he grabbed it, and I hugged him and he hugged me. And he said, ‘Thank you for your courage.’ 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.”

Staver says that during the meeting, the pope gave Davis and her husband two sets of rosary beads that the pontiff had personally blessed. Davis reportedly gave the rosary beads to her Catholic parents, as she and her husband worship at the Solid Rock Apostolic Church near Morehead, Ky. It is affiliated with the Apostolic Pentecostal movement, a Protestant denomination that has a literal view of the Bible, including the belief that homosexuality is a sin.

Staver is a former Seventh-day Adventist pastor who heads the tax-exempt legal group Liberty Counsel, which provides pro-bono legal counsel to advance its stated interest in "restoring the culture by advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the family," according to its website. It has a long history of targeting progressive, pro-choice, and LGBT groups, initiatives, and individuals. 

Back in 2000, Liberty Counsel threatened to sue Florida’s Jacksonville Public Library for awarding a Hogwarts' Certificate of Accomplishment to children who read all 734 pages of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. At the time, Staver charged that the public library’s encouragement of childhood literacy was in fact promoting "witchcraft," in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause prohibiting the state from endorsing a particular religion. To avoid the cost of a lawsuit, the Jacksonville Public Libraries ceased the literacy program in 2000, according to American Libraries magazine

However, it seems the separation of church and state is precisely what Staver is seeking to dissolve with his current client, Davis, who is seeking to ignore federal orders that require her to do her job as a public servant (who issues marriage licenses) by serving all members of the public equally. Staver, on Davis's behalf, consistently claims that his client is a good Christian woman, only seeking to follow her deeply held religious conviction that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. 

Noting that Pope Francis refused multiple requests to meet with disenfrancised LGBT Catholics and directly claimed he was only speaking generally about the "human right" of government officials to pursue a "conscientious objection" in refusing to perform duties that conflict with their faith, many LGBT people felt the secret nature of the pope's meeting with Davis was a slap in the face.  

“The pope played us for fools, trying to have it both ways,” wrote award-winning gay author and talk show host Michelangelo Signorile at The Huffington Post. Signorile went on to stress:

“I would have more respect for the pope if he had publicly embraced Kim Davis and made an argument for her, as he did in his visit with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are battling against filling out a form to exempt themselves from Obamacare's contraception requirement, claiming that even filling out the form violates their religious liberty — even though I vehemently disagree with the pope on that issue. I'd have more respect if he boldly, explicitly made a public statement (not the vague, general statement he made on his plane on the way home only in response to a reporter's question about Davis), as he did in trying to stop the execution of a Georgia inmate who was put to death this morning. But by meeting with Davis secretly, and then at first having the Vatican neither confirm nor deny the encounter — and now having the Vatican say it ‘won't deny’ the meeting while it still won't offer any other details — the pope comes off as a coward.”

“It’s probably best not to interpret a meeting that the Vatican will not speak about, and also to be careful about swallowing wholesale the interpretation of those who would use this meeting to support their own agenda,” added James Martin, a Jesuit priest like the pope, in a Wednesday post for the Jesuit magazine America titled “The Pope and Kim Davis: Seven Points to Keep in Mind.” “Instead, there’s an easier and better option. Listen to the pope’s own words […] about individual conscientious objection.”

Whether “conscientious objection” is an apt legal definition of Davis’s refusal to carry out her professional duties as an elected official is debatable, since Davis has refused to resign from her post and is still collecting her $80,000 annual salary despite refusing to issue marriage licenses since late June. By comparison, “conscientious objectors” to military service routinely resign or refuse to serve when called, according to the GI Rights Hotline's explanation

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