So the Vatican now says Pope Francis didn’t give a “real audience” to Kim Davis but did give one to a gay former student and his boyfriend of 19 years. Davis was just one of “dozens” of people invited to a meet-and-greet at the papal nunciature in Washington.
Nor did the pope “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,” according to the statement issued yesterday by Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi. And whereas Davis’ lawyer says the invitation came from the Vatican, the Vatican says it came from the papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
Who am I to judge?
All I’ll say is that this is pretty extraordinary push-back for the Vatican Press Office, signaling a belated recognition that L’affaire Davis has rained long enough on the aftermath of Francis’ American parade. And that the story was pretty peculiar from the outset.
It’s one thing to make an unscheduled public stop at the Little Sisters of the Poor as a signal of support for the order’s religious liberty case against the Affordable Care Act, though whether Francis was actually supporting their position in all of its particular and complex aspects may be open to question. It’s quite another to let so controversial (and non-Catholic) a figure as Davis control the narrative of an extended, unacknowledged private audience.
Most likely, her invitation was contrived by the network of conservative Catholics and evangelicals that has pushed the cause of religious freedom to the center of the American culture wars. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reportedly opposed it.
Kim Davis’ position is not complex. It is about using a claim of religious freedom to deny other people their constitutional rights. It is at odds with the position Francis expressed a week ago at Independence Hall when he called it “imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.”
Even under the most generous of assumptions, Vatican trip managers cannot be absolved of letting Davis into the papal presence. I bet they will be more vigilant in the future. I also bet that this episode will render His Holiness less inclined to toss his conservative critics a bone or two at the Bishops Synod on the Family, which starts tomorrow.