After days of confusion, the Vatican issued a statement clarifying Pope Francis’ Sept. 24 encounter with Davis, an Apostolic Christian who has become a focal point in the gay marriage debate in the U.S. In a statement, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis met with “several dozen” people at the Vatican’s embassy just before leaving Washington for New York.
Lombardi said such meetings are par for the course of any Vatican trip and are due to the pope’s “kindness and availability.” He said the pope only really had one “audience” in Washington: with former students and his family members.
“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,” Lombardi said.
Davis, a Rowan County, Kentucky clerk, spent five days in jail for defying a series of federal court orders to issue same-sex marriage licenses. She said earlier this week that she and her husband met briefly with the pope at the Vatican’s nunciature in Washington and that he encouraged her to “stay strong.”
She later told ABC: “Just knowing that the pope is on track with what we’re doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything.”
The Vatican statement made clear the pope expressed no such sentiments.
News of the audience sent shockwaves through the U.S. church, with Davis’ supporters saying it showed the pope backed her cause and opponents questioning whether the pope had been duped into meeting with her and truly knew the details of her case.
Initially the Vatican only reluctantly confirmed the meeting but offered no comment.
Lombardi issued a fuller statement to “contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired.”
Francis did not focus on the debate over same-sex marriage during his visit last week, telling the U.S. bishops to avoid “harsh and divisive” language despite the challenges they face in society.
From the start of his six-day tour, Francis encouraged Americans to preserve religious freedom, which he called “one of America’s most precious possessions.” But he listed it among a list of many other issues, including immigration, climate change and the death penalty.
As he left the country, Francis told reporters who inquired that he did not know Davis’ case in detail, but he defended conscientious objection as a human right.
“It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right,” Francis said.