Activists who represent lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics tell The Advocate they are concerned about now-confirmed reports of a meeting between Pope Francis and antigay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, fearing that such a meeting could set back what little support there is for the disenfranchised faithful.
"The news that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis while failing to respond to repeated requests for dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families will be deeply disappointing to many Catholics, gay, trans, and straight alike," says Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, in an email to The Advocate. "It put the weight of the Vatican behind the US Catholic bishops’ claims of victimization, and supports those who want to make it more difficult for same-sex couples to exercise their civil right to marriage."
"If it turns out the meeting actually happened, I would be very disappointed in Pope Francis," says Frank DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry. "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."
The news was first reported by Inside the Vatican, a conservative Catholic publication, notes Religion News Service. After initially refusing to confirm the reports, the Vatican confirmed this morning that Pope Francis did indeed meet with Davis.
Liberty Counsel, the right-wing, anti-LGBT nonprofit representing Davis as she continues to defy federal orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, issued a press release Tuesday confirming the meeting.
According to the Liberty Counsel's release, 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. He also presented the couple with rosary beads he had personally blessed.
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, and Davis reportedly gave them the rosary beads blessed by the pope.
“I was humbled to meet Pope Francis. Of all people, why me?” Davis said in Liberty Counsel's 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.
While doubt has been cast on some assertions about international support for Davis — such as the debunked claim that 100,000 people attended a prayer rally on her behalf in Peru — the Vatican's confirmation of the meeting puts to rest doubts about that claim's accuracy.
Davis returned to her job as Rowan County clerk September 14, after spending time in jail for contempt of court, as she repeatedly disobeyed a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples, gay and straight. The lawsuit against her originated after Davis' ceased issuing any marriage licenses in Rowan County following the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality decision on June 26, also refusing to allow her staff to perform their duties. 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.
The pope said little about marriage equality during his visit, but as New Ways Ministry's DeBernado mentioned, on the papal 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.
On his blog, DeBernardo wrote that he feels the pope was wrong to apply the principle of conscientious objection to Davis's case, and he tells The Advocate this double-talk by Pope Francis is concerning.
"Though LGBT and ally Catholics have welcomed Pope Francis' affirming remarks, many, including me, have also remarked that he sometimes talks out of both sides of his mouth," DeBernardo wrote in his email. "Moreover, while he is LGBT-positive in general ways, his remarks on specific moral and political issues are often at odds with his welcoming stance. The time for vagueness, ambiguity, and secret meetings is over. Pope Francis needs to state clearly where he stands in regard to the inclusion of LGBT people in the church and society."
"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," wrote Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA. "It will make even more of us feel like the Pope’s message of mercy and love was not meant for LGBT people and families. It points again to the deep divide between Catholics who affirm and support their LGBT family members and friends, and the hierarchy, which is tragically out of touch."
Francis has often taken a conciliatory tone toward LGBT people but has held firm to Catholic doctrine, which opposes same-sex relationships. But the pope expressed "concern for the family"during his historic address to the U.S. Congress, and appeared to condemn LGBT people as living "lifestyles" that are "irresponsible" in his speech before the United Nations at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
With additional reporting by Trudy Ring.