Amid a six-day papal visit to the U.S. celebrated for calls of tolerance and inclusion, Pope Francis took time out of his schedule to hold a private, secret meeting with antigay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, reports The New York Times.
Although the Vatican initially refused to confirm or deny early reports that such a meeting took place, on Wednesday morning a Vatican spokesperson confirmed that the pope did indeed meet with the thrice-divorced Kentucky clerk recently jailed for contempt of court after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
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. Shortly thereafter, Davis's lawyer and Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver sought to verify his group's claims by releasing a photo to The Atlantic, which claims to show a pair of rosaries the pope allegedly gave Davis at their meeting:
Davis and her fourth husband were in Washington, D.C., to recieve the Cost of Discipleship Award at the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of social conservatives sponsored by Family Research Council Action, the antigay Family Research Council's lobbying arm.
Staver says that the meeting was kept secret until Pope Francis left the United States because the group "didn't want the pope's visit to be focused on Kim Davis." He further contends that the Davises snuck into the Vatican embassy for a 15-minute meeting with the Holy Father, wherein Davis disguised her appearance by changing her hairstyle for the occasion.
Speaking with ABC News, which reports the Vatican arranged the meeting weeks ago, Davis described the events:
"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 was crying. 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."
That's when the pope presented Davis with two rosaries, which Davis, an Apostolic Pentecostal Christian, gave to her Catholic parents. The Apostolic Pentecostal Church is a Protestant denomination that has a literal view of the Bible, including the belief that homosexuality is a sin. Davis says she then asked the pope to pray for her, which he promised to do, before asking her to pray for him in return.
The pope said little about marriage equality during his visit, but on the papal flight back to Rome on 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.
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.