Pope Francis’ reported meeting with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, was just a greeting and doesn’t indicate support for her position, the Vatican said Friday.
In a statement, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi distanced the pontiff from her case, saying Francis met with "several dozen" people at the Vatican's embassy on Sept. 24, just before leaving Washington for New York.
Davis spent five days in jail last month for her defiance of a Supreme Court ruling and has become a folk hero among some on the religious right.
Lombardi said the Vatican wanted to “clarify” what happened in order to “contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired.”
“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," Lombardi said, referring to the Vatican's diplomatic mission. “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.”
The statement also added explained that the meeting could not be described as a formal audience.
“Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability,” it said. “The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.”
Davis was invited by the U.S. papal nuncio – effectively the Vatican’s ambassador to Washington –Archbishop Carlo Vigano, according to Holy See Press Office official, Fr. Thomas Rosica.
Davis was earlier this week quoted as saying that Francis was “on track with what we're doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything."
However, the Vatican statement indicates the pope did not express any view.
Attorney Mat Staver, who represents Davis, insists Francis was knowledgeable about her case, saying: “The Vatican was aware of who she was and her circumstances.” He did not witness the meeting, which was described by sources as brief, perhaps as short as five minutes.
Officials at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told NBC News that it had "no knowledge" of how the meeting came about and that, if any archbishop was involved, it was "an entirely private effort."
Davis, a mother of four grown children, was given two rosaries blessed by Francis. She gave them to her parents who are Catholic.
During his six-day visit to the United States, Francis emphasized a theme of religious freedom, which he called "one of America's most precious possessions."
On his flight back to Rome, he appeared to back Davis’ stance when asked by a reporter if he supported “individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example when issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”
He did not refer specifically to Davis in his reply, saying: "I can't have in mind all the 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. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right."