Kim Davis claims she met with Pope Francis. Would it matter?

Last night, Inside the Vatican reported that Kim Davis held a secret meeting with Pope Francis last weekend at the Vatican’s embassy in Washington, D.C., before Davis’s appearance at the Values Voter Summit to receive their Cost of Discipleship award:

“The Pope spoke in English,” she told [reporter Robert Moynihan]. “There was no interpreter. ‘Thank you for your courage,’ Pope Francis said to me. I said, ‘Thank you, Holy Father.’ I had asked a monsignor earlier what was the proper way to greet the Pope, and whether it would be appropriate for me to embrace him, and I had been told it would be okay to hug him. So I hugged him, and he hugged me back. It was an extraordinary moment. ‘Stay strong,’ he said to me. Then he gave me a rosary as a gift, and he gave one also to my husband, Joe. I broke into tears. I was deeply moved.”

Liberty Counsel, the group representing Davis, was quick to jump on the report, publishing a press release touting the Pope’s endorsement as yet another badge of honor for Davis. In addition, they claimed that the meeting was the Vatican’s idea, not theirs or any American officials’:

The Vatican has not yet confirmed the meeting, and Davis herself is the only source cited in the Inside the Vatican article, which is in turn the only source for Liberty Counsel’s press release (ItV is not an official Vatican site). This is significant given that Kim Davis and Liberty Counsel have proven to be unreliable sources insofar as Davis’s international appeal is concerned. So until the Vatican weighs in, it’s probably best to take the entire account with a full shaker of salt.

That said, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the meeting did happen. For one thing, we already know that Francis gave Davis’s stand against the government’s requirement that she do her job a full-throated endorsement as he was leaving the country. Second, Francis had a very public meeting with the Little Sisters of the Poor, the group of nuns at the center of the legal battle over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate fix in a case that’s about as one-sided as Kim Davis’s. And, finally, this is a big claim to have made up. It’s one thing to appropriate a picture from a prayer rally that wasn’t praying for what you said it was for; it’s another thing entirely to claim you met with the Vicar of Christ on Earth and dare him to call you a liar. That’s probably a bit too bold, even for Kim Davis and Liberty Counsel.

So let’s grant that the meeting happened. Why is everyone freaking out about it?

Again, we already know how the Vatican feels about LGBT people. We already know how Pope Francis feels about religion’s relationship with secular liberal democracy. We already know that he didn’t have any problem holding politically-charged meetings with self-professed religious activists while he was in the United States. And we already know that when he was asked about Kim Davis’s situation, he took her side.

Why should the maybe-fact that he told her so in person change how I feel about either of them?

If anything, all this means is that the Pope took fifteen minutes out of his historically busy schedule to grant an audience — something that for many Catholics would be the experience of a lifetime — to the most newsworthy (and non-Catholic!) anti-gay crusader in the United States. In secret, because he knew it would look bad.

So shame on Pope Francis, but keep in mind that going out of his way to stick up for anti-gay religious activists doesn’t make him a bad pope.

It makes him Pope.

UPDATE: The Vatican has confirmed that the meeting did take place.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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