UPDATE: The Vatican confirmed Wednesday morning the secret, closed-door meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis. Meanwhile, Catholic LGBT groups tell The Advocate they are alarmed and disappointed by this development. Scroll down for reaction.
Pope Francis met privately with renegade Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis when he was in the U.S. last week, encouraging her to "stay strong," according to her lawyers at the right-wing group Liberty Counsel. The Vatican confirmed the pope's meeting with the antigay clerk on Wednesday morning.
The news was first reported Tuesday by Inside the Vatican, a conservative Catholic publication, notes Religion News Service. Inside the Vatican's website crashed shortly after its story was posted, but it is available now. Liberty Counsel also issued a press release confirming the meeting.
On Tuesday evening, Davis's lawyer, Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver, released photos to The Atlantic, of the rosaries the Pope reportedly gave Davis at their meeting.
The pope said little about marriage equality during his visit, but on his flight back to Rome Monday he said there is a "human right" to "conscientious objection," even by government officials, when duties conflict with their religious beliefs. ABC's Terry Moran had asked him specifically about Davis, who says issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples conflicts with her Christian beliefs, but the pope did not mention her in his answer.
Now comes the news that Francis met with Davis and her husband, Joe, Thursday at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C. The pope told Davis, "Thank you for your courage" and "stay strong," and asked her to pray for him, and she in turn asked him to pray for her, according to the Liberty Counsel press release. He also presented the couple with rosaries he had personally blessed.
"I was humbled to meet Pope Francis. Of all people, why me?" Davis said in the release. "I never thought I would meet the pope. Who am I to have this rare opportunity? I am just a county clerk who loves Jesus and desires with all my heart to serve him." Francis was "kind, genuinely caring, and very personable," she added.
Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA tells The Advocate "I fear that this meeting and claims that the Pope told Ms. Davis to 'stand strong' will embolden the many US bishops and others who continue to try to turn back support for LGBT people."
"If it turns out the meeting actually happened, I would be very disappointed in Pope Francis, says Frank DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry in an email to The Advocate. "There were numerous calls for him to meet with LGBT Catholics and families while in the U.S., and the Vatican ignored them all. In his remarks during the airplane interview on his way back to Rome, Francis was asked about exactly the type of case that Davis represents, and he refused to comment on any specific case. If he did meet with her, he should have told reporters then that he had met with her."
Francis has often taken a conciliatory tone toward LGBT people but has held firm to Catholic doctrine, which opposes same-sex relationships. Davis is not a Catholic but is a member of the Apostolic Pentecostal Church, a Protestant denomination that has a literal view of the Bible, including the belief that homosexuality is a sin. Her mother and father are Catholic. She was in Washington to receive the Cost of Discipleship Award at the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of social conservatives. Its lead sponsor is Family Research Council Action, the antigay Family Research Council's lobbying arm.
While doubt has been cast on some assertions about international support for Davis -- such as the claim that 100,000 people attended a prayer rally on her behalf in Peru -- a correspondent for Inside the Vatican says Vatican officials confirmed to him that she met with the pope. "The occurrence of this meeting is not in doubt," reporter Robert Moynihan told Religion News Service. The service could not reach the Vatican for independent confirmation. Davis returned to her job as Rowan County clerk September 14 after spending time in jail for contempt of court, as she had disobeyed a federal judge's order to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples, gay and straight. She had been sued because she had ceased issuing any licenses after the Supreme Court's marriage equality decision June 26 and would not allow her staff to issue licenses either. Her deputies began issuing licenses during her incarceration. One deputy took on the role of serving same-sex couples and has continued in this role since her release, but Davis has removed her name from the license forms, raising questions as to whether she is in compliance with the court order now.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.