Hours after the Vatican issued a statement countering Kim Davis's claims that she had a lengthy, private meeting with Pope Francis while he was in Washington, D.C., last week, the right-wing law firm representing Davis fired back, claiming the Vatican is misrepresenting the nature and depth of the meeting.
Mat Staver, Davis's lawyer and chairman of certified anti-LGBT hate group Liberty Counsel, issued a statement today pushing back on the Vatican's attempt to downplay the significance of Davis's papal audience. The one point on which Staver and the Vatican agree is that Davis did not discuss the details of her ongoing legal case, stemming from the elected official's religion-based refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court enacted marriage equality nationwide. But their versions of the event otherwise differ significantly.
In a press release today, Liberty Counsel posted several photos that it says corroborate its own claims that Vatican officials escorted Davis and her fourth husband, Joe, to the Nunciature, where they had a 15-minute meeting and the pope gave the couple a pair of rosary beads he had personally blessed.
"Despite a statement this morning by a Vatican official, the Pope's own words about conscientious objection being a human right and his private meeting with Kim Davis indicate support for the universal right of conscientious objection, even for government officials," reads Liberty Counsel's latest statement. "The meeting with Kim Davis was initiated by the Vatican, and the private meeting occurred at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, September 24. This meeting was a private meeting without any other members of the public present."
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters Friday morning that "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. 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."
But that's not how Liberty Counsel remembers the meeting. "Neither Kim Davis nor Liberty Counsel ever said the meeting was an endorsement of particular and complex aspects of her legal case," said Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver in today's statement. "Rather, the meeting was a pastoral meeting to encourage Kim Davis in which Pope Francis thanked her for her courage and told her to 'Stay strong.' His words and actions support the universal human right to conscientious objection."
Liberty Counsel goes on to set out the timeline for what the group says was the Vatican's communication with Davis, beginning with a formal invitation September 14, the same day Davis went back to work as county clerk in Rowan County, Ky. The right-wing legal nonprofit contends Vatican officials confirmed Davis's meeting twice in the days before it occurred, then sent a private secured car to transport Davis and her husband to the Vatican embassy at 1:15 p.m. September 24.
"Kim and Joe Davis waited for the private meeting with the Pope," claims Liberty Counsel. "There were no other people in the room. This was a private meeting between Pope Francis and Kim and Joe Davis. This was not a meeting with other people in which Kim and Joe Davis were a part, but rather a private meeting with no other people in the room except Vatican security and personnel."
Liberty Counsel's statement slams a Reuters report that cited an anonymous Vatican official claiming the pope only met Davis in a receiving line as "false." Staver added:
"There was no line of people before, near, or around Kim Davis. Had Kim Davis been in a line of people or been seen by anyone outside of Vatican personnel, we would not have been able to keep her visit secret. Kim's face is easily recognizable. When we walk through airports as large as LaGuardia, Philadelpia, and Reagan, people recognize her and give her encouragement. This was a private meeting with no other people except for the Pope and select Vatican personnel."
Liberty Counsel's statement reiterated the right-wing group's earlier claims that Pope Francis thanked Davis for her "courage" and told her to "stay strong."
"He held out his hands and asked Kim to pray for him," continues Liberty Counsel's latest account of the meeting. "Kim held his hands and said, 'I will. Please pray for me,' and the Pope said he would. The two embraced. The Papal photography staff took pictures of the meeting. The Pontiff presented Kim and Joe Davis each with a Rosary. One was black in a red jewelry box bearing the Vatican seal, and the other was white in a white jewelry box bearing the Vatican seal."
Liberty Counsel's statement did not include any photos of Davis and the pope in the same frame, though the latest release did include several photos of Davis and her husband allegedly inside the Vatican embassy (top photo), and a photo of the rosary beads Francis supposedly gave to the couple (above).