The Vatican has now spoken out publicly in response to the international outrage over Pope Francis' meeting with Kim Davis, saying it was not an endorsement of her stand. And one unnamed Vatican official even noted to the media that there is a "sense of regret." The Vatican and those close to it described the meeting in the way that some Vatican-watchers had speculated in recent days, based on their own sources: Davis' meeting was not arranged by the Vatican, and it appears she was part of a procession line of people greeting the pope.
The pope, according to the Vatican's clarification, knew little of the particulars of her story. It appears it was not a private meeting to endorse her. Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi even described it as not "a real audience" -- quite an insult to Davis -- unlike some of the pope's other meetings. And Fr. Tom Rosica, who assists the Vatican press office, said Francis personally approved the clarification, so the rebuke is coming straight from the top. Whatever the case, it is very rare that the Vatican offers a clarification of any kind. So this is a slap at Davis and her lawyers for using the meeting in a political manner.
That is great, and the fact that the rebuke is coming from Pope Francis himself is huge. It was absolutely necessary and will go a long way. And there are two important points that should be taken away from this:
1. The Vatican got itself into this mess, and further exacerbated it.
The Vatican is saying it didn't organize a meeting with Davis, implying someone with an agenda brought her there. There have been various speculative accounts about this in recent days, some focusing on the Vatican ambassador to the U.S., who is described as a long-time Benedict supporter who was perhaps determined to undermine Francis. Whatever the case, someone either screwed up royally at the Vatican Embassy by even allowing Davis to get through, or the Vatican planned the meeting and this is all damage control for what it now realizes was a big mistake.
And then, the second screw up was the Vatican's issuing a "neither confirm nor deny" statement about the meeting only to later issue a "won't deny" statement. This is really what lit the torch that spread outrage around the world. The Vatican must learn that it needs to put out a fire with all the might it has before its spreads. Instead, it poured gasoline on the fire. The Vatican perhaps thought it could get away with not insulting Davis and evangelicals even after the meeting was made public and that it could just sweep this under the rug. It was wrong.
2. Contrary to those who are demanding apologies from those of us who spoke out, it is in fact the moral outrage that got the Vatican to issue its clarification.
The Vatican rarely clarifies anything, often still clinging to its worn-out image as a centuries-old mysterious institution that sits above the fray, even though it is a global empire with websites, social media accounts and sophisticated p.r. operatives who work for it in dozens of countries. Had there not been a collective sense of betrayal expressed in a forceful way by people around the world, the Vatican would have done nothing.
In that case, Liberty Counsel, the anti-gay legal firm associated with the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and which represents Kim Davis, would have gotten away with using the pope and the Catholic Church for its hateful, hideous, law-breaking agenda. So, actually, we did the pope a favor in forcing the Vatican to speak out. And more importantly, we exposed Liberty Counsel and pressured the Catholic Church, in a rare instance, to slam an anti-gay entity by exposing its lie. In its now-thwarted master plan, Liberty Counsel expected the Vatican to simply do what it has done in the past: Put out a vague comment and let it stand, thus allowing Liberty Counsel to continue to control the narrative. But the outrage -- and only the outrage, from millions of people globally -- changed that: Now the church controls the narrative while Liberty Counsel is rebuked even as it is now trying to continue a war of words with the Vatican.
The damage is still there for Pope Francis, no doubt. This was a bad incident, and not the punctuation he wanted on his trip. Hopefully he'll deal with those around him who put him in this position. The Vatican needed to issue this clarification as a first step. Maybe the pope has further plans.
To those who say that we should have given the pope the benefit of the doubt, I again say that without the outrage there would be no response.
But more importantly: This is a powerful church that still condemns homosexuality as "intrinsically disordered," attacks transgender people and allows its institutions worldwide to discriminate against LGBT people, with Catholic schools in the U.S. firing gay or lesbian teachers, for example, after finding out they're exercising their right to marry . The pope has both refused meetings with LGBT Catholics on these issues and refused to stop that discrimination.
The church surely cannot be seen as a "friend" of LGBT people even if we see a very slight -- in a centuries-long context -- overture by this new pope. It will need to be treated as a hostile institution for a long time. In the meantime, it's important to expose hypocrisies and encourage the pope -- who doesn't want this issue bogging him down and keeping him from focusing on the issues he's passionate about -- to do much, much more. The pressure got him to take control of this situation. That was big. It means that we need to keep the pressure up.
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