A day before Pope Francis met with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis — who has been a central figure in the opposition to gay marriage in America — the pontiff met with a same-sex couple.
Yayo Grassi, and his partner of 19 years, Iwan Bagus, met with Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23, Grassi said. Grassi is one of the pope's former students.
"He met with me and my boyfriend — knowing that I am his friend and that my boyfriend is my boyfriend," Grassi told CNBC. "We did not talk about gay marriage. I know what he thinks."
Grassi said a video of the meeting was published online without his knowledge, but once the meeting became public, he felt the need to speak out about it.
"I need to testify to the fact that he's not this homophobic person that people think he is," Grassi said of the pope.
In the video, Grassi can be seen embracing Francis and introducing him to female friends, two of whom became visibly emotional in the Pope's presence.
Toward the end of the meeting, the Pope embraces Grassi and then Bagus, who gives the pontiff a kiss on each cheek.
Grassi said his relationship with the Pope dates back to his days a as high school student in Argentina, where the pope was his teacher, and that he and Bagus had met with Francis once before, in Italy.
National Geographic reported that Grassi wrote to the Pope in 2010 to criticize his views on gay marriage. "You have been my guide, continuously moving my horizons — you have shaped the most progressive aspects of my worldview. And to hear this from you is so disappointing," Grassi wrote, according to National Geographic.
According to the magazine, Pope Francis wrote back to say that he had taken Grassi's words to heart, but the Church's position on gay marriage was fixed. But the pope also told his former student that homophobia has no place in his pastoral work.
"This was a personal interaction with him, we did not discuss anything else," Grassi said of the meeting, adding that he was "just seeing an old friend."
"We have been friends for a long time. He knows about me being gay and he has a lot of respect for me being gay and Iwan being my partner," Grassi said.
Grassi also said that he thinks the Pope was not fully aware of who Kim Davis was when he saw her the next day. "My impression was that the Pope received the lady without full knowledge of who she was or the meaning of her being there with him," Grassi said.