On Thursday, September 24, Kim Davis met Pope Francis in Washington at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. Yes, you read that right: Pope Francis, the infallible leader of over a billion Catholics and the voice of God on Earth met with the woman who wouldn’t do her job because she thinks God gave her the authority to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses.
I suppose, in a way, it makes sense. Both consider themselves infallible. Both are highly religious. Both are symbols of their particular faith for a large amount of people, and both wear old-fashioned clothes. Nonetheless, I was initially shocked to hear about the meeting, especially given Pope Francis’ record of attempting to soften the Catholic Church’s hard stance against homosexuals. And yet he chooses to meet with the face of the anti-gay movement in the US on his official tour?
Well, as it turns out, His High Holiness did not actually choose to meet with Kim Davis. Contrary to the ebullient and somewhat smug tone of both Ms. Davis and her attorney, she was invited by the nuncio, not the Pope. While this might seem like a small point, it’s actually a very important distinction. The nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, is essentially the ambassador of the Vatican, but he doesn’t quite speak with Pope Francis’ full authority. So he chose who to invite, including Ms. Davis. It’s also worth noting that Archbishop Vigano was part of the Vatileaks scandal that helped bring about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation and is a strong proponent for religious liberty, quoted in 2012 as saying, “What God has given, the servant state does not have the competence to remove.”
Furthermore, the Vatican is trying to claim that it didn’t mean to condone or support Ms. Davis’ position and that she wasn’t given an audience so much as put in a line with other people, blessed by the Pope, and sent on her way. In fact, according to the Vatican, the Pope only had an official audience with one person – his former student Yayo Grassi, who is an openly gay man, has been for over 20 years, and who brought his long-term partner with him. So it seems a bit weird that he would hug a gay man with one hand and bless a homophobe with the other.
I want to believe that Pope Francis and the Vatican didn’t mean to endorse Kim Davis and her agenda in any way and that her invitation was solely the decision of Archbishop Vigano. I want to believe that this whole thing was part of his machinations and runs completely counter to what the Vatican is trying to achieve. I want to believe that it is the last desperate grasp of a dying and desiccated viewpoint. But I’m not entirely sure that’s the case. Pope Francis was quoted as saying that “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right.” Who’s to say he wasn’t intrigued by Kim Davis and even proud of her for refusing to issue marriage licenses and the Vatican is now only backtracking because of how upset people at getting? Since their meeting wasn’t recorded, how can we know what really happened and what both sides are trying to spin?
But here’s one good thing that came from it: the Vatican saw that it cannot wholesale endorse homophobia, at least in the US. And that will send a message to the over billion Catholics in the world and other Christians that see Pope Francis as a respected, religious leader. It will tell them that the majority will no longer sit silently and let queer people be trod upon and denied their rights. And that’s something.