Pope Francis’ meeting with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis has upset gay Catholics who call it “puzzling” amid the pontiff’s calls for a welcoming church.
The Vatican confirmed on Wednesday that the meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis, who made headlines in September for refusing to issue marriage licenses for gay couples, took place during the pontiff’s visit to the United States last week.
"I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no further comments," Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters in Rome.
Without comment from the Vatican, the only description of the meeting thus far comes from Davis, herself.
“He told me before he left, he said, ‘stay strong.’ That was a great encouragement. Just knowing that the pope is on track with what we're doing, it kind of validates everything to have someone of that stature,” Davis told ABC on Wednesday.
“I fear that this meeting and claims that the pope told Ms. Davis to ‘stand strong’ will embolden the many U.S. bishops and others who continue to try to turn back support for LGBT people,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of LGBT Catholic group 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.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a gay Catholic organization agreed, saying in a statement that the meeting "throws a wet blanket on the good will that the pontiff had garnered during his U.S. visit last week."
But the meeting is "puzzling" for several reasons, DeBernardo continued. The pontiff steered clear of political debates during his trip to the U.S. and has in the past promoted a welcoming attitude toward gays DeBernardo noted. But the Vatican denied an invitation for a meeting between the pope and gay families during his U.S. visit, which makes the meeting with Davis all the more painful.
“Though LGBT and ally Catholics have welcomed Pope Francis’ affirming remarks, many, including myself, have also remarked that he sometimes talks out of both sides of his mouth,” DeBernardo wrote. “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.”
Pope Francis hasn’t commented specifically about Davis’ case, but he addressed conscientious objection, the notion that someone may engage in civil disobedience based on their moral code, during an on-flight press conference en route back to Rome on Sunday. He upheld the right to object according to one’s conscience but specifically warned against construing his comments as blanket support for all cases. "I can't have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right,” Francis said.
The pontiff did get specific about two other -- and much more widely celebrated -- conscientious objectors during his trip: Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Day. As Christopher J. Hale, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, wrote in a statement: “Davis didn't practice moral heroism by refusing to step down as county clerk. King and Day opted out of the system they morally disagreed with. Davis still receives a paycheck from the American people.”
Aaron Jay Ledesma, a gay Catholic who was invited to the White House to help welcome Pope Francis last week, said the meeting between the pope and Davis does not in any way change his opinion of the pontiff.
“The pope met so many people on his trip to the United States, so who am I to judge who he meets,” Ledesma told HuffPost. “The meeting itself does not bother me -- if anything she probably needs it.”
What does bother him, Ledesma said, is that Kim Davis would use the meeting to push an agenda.
“She’s using her faith and her meeting with Pope Francis out of context to justify her discrimination against gay people,” he said. Ledesma said he doesn’t think the pope would approve of such discrimination, given his emphasis on love and compassion.
The extent to which Francis even knew about Davis’ case before meeting her is unclear, and many have cautioned against interpreting the meaning of the encounter without comment from the Vatican. Crux, a Catholic outlet, suggested the meeting may indicate anything between an appeal to show solidarity with conservative corners of the U.S. church and an attempt to appease bishops before renewing efforts for a more welcoming stance toward gays at the upcoming synod on the family. But for DeBernardo, such incidents sow undue confusion.
“The time for vagueness, ambiguity, and secret meetings is over,” he wrote. “Pope Francis needs to state clearly where he stands in regard to the inclusion of LGBT people in the church and society.”
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