Of Popes and pawns: Pope Francis and Kim Davis
The post-script to Pope Francis’ visit to the US last week seemed to have come straight out of a thriller novel or a cable TV series: a bishop tries to get the Pope to meet a controversial anti-LGBT figure to score points. Though he succeeds, the truth eventually comes out with a side order of an ironic twist.
What made it even more fascinating was the fact that last week’s moves all happened as neat and orderly as chess: move, counter-move, checkmate. (which never happens in real life.) Here’s a summary of the events:
Point: Kim Davis’ audience with Pope Francis
The first move happened when the lawyers of controversial county clerk Kim Davis claimed that Davis had been granted an audience with the Pope during his visit. The pontiff had reportedly told her to “stay strong.”
It didn’t help that Pope Francis’ parting words before he left the US was his support for “conscientious objection” as a human right. Davis claimed her refusal to serve same-sex marriages was a “conscientious objection” based on her religion.
Christian conservatives claimed this was a major victory, which seemed contrary to the overall message the Pope had raised during his visit. The Vatican later confirmed the visit but was pretty much mum about the rest.
The irony here, of course, is that Davis is an Evangelical Christian, not Catholic. It would seem like that this was the end of the story, with one side controlling the narrative of the story.
Counter-point: The Vatican speaks on Pope Francis’ behalf
However, the Vatican finally spoke up. In a statement, they said: “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,” the statement read.
Russell Roybal, Deputy Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force, said of the clarification: “As a Catholic I’m glad that the Pope is distancing himself from what Kim Davis stands for–which is discrimination against LGBTQ people and blatant disregard for the law.”
“We are also pleased to note that Pope Francis met privately while in Washington with one of his former students who is openly gay and his partner. Indeed the gay man concerned has characterized the Pope as being ‘nonjudgmental’. This gives us some further interesting insight into the thinking of the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion people,” Roybal said.
Checkmate: The real audience with Pope Francis
This was the twist to the story here. According to reports, Pope Francis had only briefly met with Davis. However, the pontiff did have a “real” audience with a former student of his– who also happened to be gay. An Argentinian, Yayo Grassi was accompanied by his boyfriend and his family and their meeting was documented in a video.
Moreover, Charles Pierce wrote in Esquire that it was possible that Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the papal nuncio to the United States, who was behind the whole matter.
A Vatican official described as “a cultural conservative, particularly on the issue of marriage equality”, Pierce said Vigano was probably the one who had arranged Davis’ meeting with Pope Francis.
Talk about an open-and-shut case in the Pope Francis visit. Or in this case: move, counter-move, checkmate.