Papal spokesman Federico Lombardi is disputing Liberty Counsel's version of the meeting between renegade antigay county clerk Kim Davis and the pope, saying people shouldn't read too much into it.
After Davis recounted the experience to ABC News and her attorney, Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver, claimed the pope told the defiant antigay clerk to "stay strong," the Vatican now says Pope Francis did not talk about Davis's defiance of federal law in denying same-sex couples marriage licenses. In fact, the Vatican claims that Davis's audience with the pope wasn't even a private meeting, as she and Staver have repeatedly claimed.
“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,” Lombardi said in a prepared statement this morning. “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.”
An unidentified Vatican official told Reuters the Holy See had a "sense of regret" that Pope Francis had any face time at all with the antigay clerk. Lombardi's assistant, Canada's Father Tom Rosica, told Reuters that the Vatican underestimated the significance of a papal audience with Davis, who has become the leading symbol of religious-based opposition to civil marriage equality in the U.S. He also rejected Davis's claim that the pope spent 15 minutes speaking with Davis and her fourth husband, Joe. "There simply was not enough time" during the pope's six-day tour of the country, he said.
"I'm not sure that [the embassy] realized how significant it would be," Rosica told Reuters. "The visit was extraordinary ... so to allow this to kind of overshadow it would be very unfortunate. This is not the centerpiece of the papal visit. This is one small part of it, but it is a loaded centerpiece."
According to Chicago's WBBM TV, Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich also denied the meeting was requested, and a source inside the Vatican told the television station the pope was "blindsided." According Vatican officials, Davis met the pope as part of a receiving line of "dozens" of people, although Davis's attorney disputes that claim.
Staver, who leads the right-wing Liberty Counsel, a certified anti-LGBT hate group, told the Associated Press that Davis was invited by the papal ambassador and was picked up at her hotel by a car dispatched by the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C. Staver said Vatican officials asked Davis to change her hairstyle for the trip so she wouldn't be recognized, and stood by his claim that the meeting was private and not part of a receiving line.
After Pope Francis departed, Liberty Counsel announced that the pontiff had met with the antigay clerk, explaining that the meeting was kept secret until the pope left the United States because the group "didn’t want the pope’s visit to be focused on Kim Davis.” He contends that the Davises sneaked into the Vatican embassy for a 15-minute meeting with the Holy Father, wherein Pope Francis gave the Apostolic Pentecostal Christian Davis a pair of rosary beads he personally blessed, which she then gave to her Catholic parents.
An adviser to Pope Francis has claimed on Twitter that the pontiff was "exploited" by Davis and her attorneys, calling it a “meeting that never should have taken place.”
This wouldn't be the first time Liberty Counsel has been caught in a fabrication about international support for Davis. Earlier this week, leaders in the right-wing group were forced to admit that a photo they claimed showed 100,000 people praying for Davis in Peru was a fake after ThinkProgress blogger Zack Ford exposed the fraud. The photo was actually taken in May 2014 at a multi-day religious event. Staver now admits that no prayer rallies were held specifically for Davis as he previously claimed, saying some people prayed for her instead.
Watch video of the Vatican's response via The New York Times: