The Vatican press office has released a statement attempting to clarify the meaning of the Pope’s meeting with Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis. Here’s the statement in full:
The brief meeting between Mrs. Kim Davis and Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC has continued to provoke comments and discussion. In order to contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired I am able to clarify the following points:
Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City. Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.
The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Kim Davis is the clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses in Rowan County, Kentucky. The Pope had previously stated that conscientious objection is a “human right” that applies to government officials. And his meeting with Kim Davis seemed to recognize her conscientious objection as a “human right” as well—especially since he encouraged her to “stay strong.”
But now this latest statement throws everything into confusion again. He says he doesn’t support Kim Davis’s position “in all of its particular and complex aspects.” That is quite the qualifier. Can Pope Francis have been any more ambiguous? One Vatican official has said there was “a sense of regret” that the pope had ever seen Kim Davis. The Vatican obviously wishes to distance itself from Davis, but then what are we to make of the Pope’s recent statements about conscientious objection?
Does the Pope wish to repudiate what Kim Davis did? Does the Pope respect conscientious objection as a human right so long as the conscientious objector isn’t Kim Davis? Does the Pope think she had a right to object but not a right to keep her job? Does the Pope agree that in this case it was right to throw Kim Davis in jail? Can one support conscientious objection as a “human right” while also supporting throwing conscientious objectors in jail?
But even more important than the questions about Davis’s particular case, what is the Pope communicating about gay marriage? Is he trying to encourage gay marriage supporters that maybe there is a place for them within the Roman Catholic Church after all? Or is he trying to hold his cards close to his vest and not intending to speak clearly one way or the other? Obviously Roman Catholic church doctrine can’t change, but is he moving toward some pastoral practice that will be more friendly to gay marriage supporters?
The bottom line is this. The Pope is not being clear, and that is the problem. As the Apostle Paul writes,
“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” -2 Corinthians 4:2
Where is the open statement of the truth in Pope Francis’s words? Where is he addressing people’s consciences clearly with the truth of God?
I would have respected him more had he openly repudiated Kim Davis. But that is not what he has done. Instead, he’s left everyone casting about trying to figure out what he means. Is he trying to say nothing definitive in order to avoid offending anyone definitively? The apostle Paul has a word about that too (Galatians 1:10).
Obfuscation is not a pastoral virtue, but that is precisely what the Pope Francis seems to be doing.
UPDATE: To muddy the waters even more, CNN is now reporting on this line from the Vatican statement: “The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.” It turns out that the “former student” is “a longtime friend from Argentina who has been in a same-sex relationship for 19 years.” CNN reports:
Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man, brought his partner, Iwan, as well several other friends to the Vatican Embassy on September 23 for a brief visit with the Pope. A video of the meeting shows Grassi and Francis greeting each other with a warm hug.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Grassi declined to disclose details about the short visit, but said it was arranged personally by the Pope via email in the weeks ahead of Francis’ highly anticipated visit to the United States.
“Three weeks before the trip, he called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug,” Grassi said.
The meeting between Grassi and the Pope adds another intriguing twist to the strange aftermath of Francis’ first-ever trip to the United States. Since news broke on Tuesday of Francis’ meeting with Davis, conservatives have cheered the seemingly implicit endorsement, while liberals have questioned how much the Pope knew about her case.
In a statement on Friday, the Vatican said that the meeting with Davis was not intended as a show of support for her cause and said “the only real audience granted by the Pope at the nunciature (embassy) was with one of his former students and his family.”
“That was me,” Grassi said.
Grassi said that Pope Francis taught him in literature and psychology classes at Inmaculada Concepcion high school in Flores, Argentina, from 1964-1965.
Grassi said the Pope has long known that he is gay, but has never condemned his sexuality or his same-sex relationship. Grassi said he and Iwan (he declined to disclose his last name due to privacy concerns) also met Francis last year in Rome.
“He has never been judgmental,” Grassi said. “He has never said anything negative.”
“Obviously he is the pastor of the church and he has to follow the church’s teachings,” Grassi added. “But as a human being he understands all kinds of situations, and he is open to all kinds of people, including those with different sexual characteristics.”
Grassi said he believes the Pope was “misled” into meeting with Davis, who served six days in a Kentucky jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Joe Carter tweeted a wry comment on the meaning of all this:
‘The Pope met with Kim Davis.” “That doesn’t mean anything.” “He also met with a gay couple.” “That shows he’s secretly in favor of SSM!”
— Joe Carter (@joecarter) October 2, 2015