The Vatican downplays Pope Francis’s meeting with Kim Davis

American liberals were shocked and appalled when they heard that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis while he was in the country last week. And with good reason: While the Pope doesn’t disagree with Kim Davis about all that much with respect to same-sex marriage and religious belief’s supersession of irreligious laws, deep down we all hoped that Pope Francis would put his deeply held religious beliefs aside for a few days and be a political figure — one whose top legislative priorities are action on climate change and economic inequality.

Given the tone of the Pope’s address to Congress, it appeared that we liberals got what we wanted: No explicit references to abortion and same-sex marriage, contrasted with a strong warning against the excesses of capitalism. We may not agree with the Pope on everything, but at least he prioritized the stuff we cared about.

This train of thought ignored much of the rest of Pope Francis’s trip. In particular, it ignored his meting with Little Sisters of the Poor, whose fight against contraception is a not-too-distant cousin of Kim Davis’s fight against same-sex marriage, and his endorsement of conscientious objection in the name of religious belief while leaving the country. We wanted to believe that, while in America, Pope Francis would be assertively political about economics while being religious on social issues; some of us missed that he’s both on both.

We also may have underestimated the full political context of Kim Davis’s audience, in no small part due to the fact that the Vatican took practically all week to say anything other than the fact that the meeting took place. In the wake of the news breaking that the Pope granted Kim Davis an audience, she did nothing but fan the flames, turning her audience into an endorsement by saying, “He told me before he left, he said, ‘stay strong.’ That was a great encouragement. Just knowing that the Pope is on track with what we’re doing, it kind of validates everything to have someone of that stature.” Today, finally, the Vatican has come out to tell her to slow her roll, writing in a statement:

Pope Francis addresses Congress, screenshot via YouTube

Pope Francis addresses Congress, screenshot via YouTube

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.

UPDATE: Turns out the “only real audience” Pope Francis granted was to a same-sex couple.

Keep in mind, this isn’t exactly a repudiation of Davis. The statement says that the meeting shouldn’t be construed as a form of support, but it also doesn’t say that the Pope disagrees with her outright. This isn’t the Vatican telling Kim Davis she’s wrong; it’s just the Vatican telling her and everyone who agrees with her to chill out, reiterating what plenty of people said when the meeting first came to light: The Pope meets with plenty of people, and we shouldn’t assume that meetings equal endorsements. As Catholic writer James Martin wrote earlier this week, “Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pope Francis also met Mark Wahlberg, and that does not mean that he liked ‘Ted,'” one of Wahlberg’s more recent and less-acclaimed films.

But the Vatican’s statement today doesn’t change the fact that Pope Francis placed himself squarely in Kim Davis’s camp independent from their meeting. And it also doesn’t change the fact that she still got an invite over literally millions of more-deserving people who were in the Washington, D.C. metro area at the time. Even if the Nunciature and not the Pope invited her, and even if the meeting was brief and vague instead of personal and specific, none of that changes anything about the Pope’s positions on the issues at hand, and it is still a black mark on what was otherwise a successful visit.

Because if there’s one thing the Vatican should have learned this week, it’s that alliances with the American Evangelical movement aren’t as useful as they used to be. American Protestants today are an odd bunch, and for political purposes it’s best to keep them at arms length. This fact was laid bare following the Vatican’s statement today when Liberty Counsel’s Matt Staver made the rather absurd claim that no one from Kim Davis-land ever said the Pope had endorsed them. This from the group that shouted to high heaven that they had been granted an audience with the Pope, positively giddy that “the Pope is on track with what we’re doing.” To do such a rapid about face, only days after being exposed for having lied about Kim Davis being an international superstar, further solidifies the point that they are deranged, fact-free hucksters. From the Vatican’s point of view, they are toxic as hell and you shouldn’t get within two degrees of separation from them.

It’s hard to believe it took them this long to figure that out.

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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27 Responses to “The Vatican downplays Pope Francis’s meeting with Kim Davis”

  1. dcinsider says:

    Yes, but it’s more true cuz I said it :)

  2. Lucille Robinson says:

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  3. FLL says:

    The NYT article you linked to reveals that Mat Staver, Kim Davis’ lawyer, met Archbishop Vigano last April at a NOM rally in Washington. The Esquire article I linked to below also reports that Archbishop Vigano arranged the papal invitation for Davis and that Vigano is a Ratzinger loyalist. It seems that Kim Davis and Vigano are birds of a feather.

  4. nicho says:

    It looks like my guess was right. The whole thing was engineered by the right-wing homophobe apostolic delegate who had already been demoted once because of his role in Vatican corruption. If I were he, I wouldn’t be waiting for a letter telling me I am being named a cardinal.

  5. nicho says:

    Turns out, you’re right. It was the apostolic delegate — and already known scumbag who was demoted because of his role in the VatiLeaks scandal.

  6. FLL says:

    The Pope meets Kim Davis:

  7. FLL says:

    As of Friday afternoon, It’s all over the mainstream press. The Friday articles suggest that Kim Davis has been up to some shenanigans. I really got suspicious when I saw that the story had been “broken” by some outfit in New Hope, Kentucky (a two-hour drive from Rowan County).

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  9. Indigo says:

    I had to think about that. Yes, definitely.

  10. 2karmanot says:

    Maybe evil Nuncio Cardinal Finger Puppet, whispered that Kimi was like the woman at the grifting well—-because Jeebus.

  11. Don Chandler says:

    If he didn’t get duped, he might have been coerced.

  12. 2karmanot says:

    Exactly so…

  13. 2karmanot says:

    Decidedly a ringworm reception.

  14. Don Chandler says:

    I know you aren’t a fan of the Catholic Church or it’s Pope. We also know the Catholic Church does impact our lives through support of political initiatives like prop 8 and we can expect them to also support the Liberty Council discrimination agenda. Several church leaders are already signed up. Since we can’t really fathom their religious machinations, we’re forced to read tea leaves…which are basically the Church’s actions and words. So….

    He made those comments to US bishops but he addressed “believers and non-believers” when used the word ‘us’:

    “These changes affect all of us, believers and non-believers alike.”

    In the same speech, he said in regards to the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, “with their social, cultural – and sadly now juridical – effects on family bonds.” The word, “sadly” is as yellow as green tea ;)

    But, ‘us’ gays are celebrating the “juridical” ruling in favor of ‘marriage equality’. We are not “sad”. Some where around 50% of us are not even affiliated with religion. I don’t think ‘we’ are part of Francis’ ‘us’. And further, the people that support ‘us’ or ‘marriage equality’ do not see a disintegration of family bonds; on the contrary, ‘we’ see stronger family bonds–and Justice Kennedy referenced those needed bonds. The people that support ‘marriage equality’ actually are far broader than the Catholic leadership. ‘Our’ supporters represent believers and non-believers and non-gays and gays. ‘We’ celebrate the Supreme Court ruling and the many many judicial rulings leading to Obergefell vs Hodges and the many successful voting initiatives and several legislative victories.

    Where is the ‘we’ in Kim and Francis’ message? Maybe we’ll find out in the upcoming Synod on the Family.

  15. Indigo says:

    Well, now, ’tis a puzzlement, inn’t? First of all, the Vatican doesn’t like being put on the spot. It took over 400 years to acknowledge that Galileo was factually correct, but still, he disrespected papal authority. So there’s that. Then there’s a profound question about Kim Davis and her gravitas. What kind of Apostolic Pentecostal goes running to the Pope? I mean . . . seriously? That’s what her enablers came up with? That’s called grandstanding and undermines any actual hint of protestantism that might have been in her moral claim. Or should I say the moral claims of the Liberty Council attorneys who are her chief enablers? Then there’s the suggestion that some of the extremist Catholic bishops, widely recognized for their hatred of all things kindly and liberal, scammed the Pope into the casual encounter for nefarious reasons of their own. Shades of Julius II! Oh, and by the way, a casual handshake encounter is not an “audience” with the Pope. We’re talking Renaissance protocols here. Anybody can shake hands with a friendly Pope, not everybody gets a formal reception complete with robes and plumed hats and swords and rings to kiss. Now that’s an audience! So let’s keep that in mind while we plumb the depths of this Vatican Screw-up.

  16. nicho says:

    Of course there’s no evidence to support your scenario either.

  17. FLL says:

    When I found out the story was first reported by “Inside the Vatican” in New Hope, Kentucky, I paused. However, I’m in agreement with you that the Pope may be complicit in the whole matter as well. The sneaky Vatican strategy may very well have been to let Kim Davis’ PR people in New Hope, Kentucky spread the story while the Vatican pretends to be blissfully unaware of events.

  18. dcinsider says:

    Let’s not be too quick to make any excuses for Francis on this one. “He got duped” has no evidence to support it.

    To obtain an audience with the Pope, whether that be a handshake or a discussion, is a HUGE deal. No one got in front of that guy without a lot of maneuvering and discussion in advance. And let’s not assume he was clueless about this. This is a very smart guy, well read, and up to date on events. He likely knew EXACTLY who she was, and exactly what his meeting with her conveyed. In the absence of any actual evidence to the contrary, we have to assume that he met with her intentionally to send a message.

    The fact that the Vatican is now touting a private meeting with a gay man he used to teach and his husband is evidence enough that they got their rosary beads stuck in the blender on Kim Davis, and are desperately trying to downplay the significance.

    They misplayed the politics on this one, and they are backtracking. They thought they could boost her cause with a meeting, and they did not anticipate the strong backlash.

    Basically, typical politicians.

    Frank is no friend of the gays, my folks. He may be better at PR than the Nazi and commie-baiter that preceded him, but he’s as much a gay basher as the next pope.

    Don’t fall for the Vatican PR machine (the same folks who brought you child rapists).

    Meet the new Pope, same as the old Pope.

  19. nicho says:

    Maybe not a dungeon, but I’m guessing their Vatican career won’t be as splendid as they hoped. Maybe they need a papal nuncio in Mogadishu.

  20. nicho says:

    All things are possible. But I still see Francis as an astute politician. You don’t get to be a cardinal, much less pope, as an innocent bystander. I can’t see him deliberately blowing up all his goodwill with an idiotic stunt like a five-minute meeting with a non-catholic, serial adulterer, living openly in sin with a man who is not her husband, and who took a solemn oath on the name of god and broke it, and who is brazenly committing theft by taking wages she doesn’t deserve. And then, apparently encouraging her to continue.

    The pro-Francis crowd argues that he met with prisoners, but I don’t remember reading that he encouraged any of the prisoners to continue breaking the law.

    So what has happened is that, in the wake of this stunt, the only ones who still idolize Francis are the fanboys and fangirls who idolized him before. The ones who were wary of him are warier. The ones who were opposed are more opposed. The ones who were neutral are scratching their heads and are still neutral or have moved over to the wary side. If he engineered this himself, he is not the politician I gave him credit for.

  21. Don Chandler says:

    Not really, it’s not just his entourage. We learned of his meeting with Davis after the pope sympathized with civil disobedience in government level jobs on the grounds of religious liberty. He basically said it’s okay to say “under god’s authority I deny you your rights.” The Pope is in favor of discrimination against gays. No other way to parse it. He has in the past said the Catholic Church should avoid rhetoric against people. But Kim Davis is all about being against gays. The pope made some comments about civil marriage and holy matrimony, but the comments sounded dismissive of civil marriage:

    “The pontiff noted the “unprecedented changes” taking place in contemporary society, “with their social, cultural – and sadly now juridical – effects on family bonds,” referring to the Supreme Course decision in June to legalize same-sex marriage for the entire nation in Obergefell v. Hodges.

    “These changes affect all of us, believers and non-believers alike,” he said in a stark address to U.S. bishops on Sunday.

    “Until recently,” the Pope said, “we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually suppor


    “This is no longer the case,” he said.” [from some horses mouth at Breitbart ;) ]

    I think Francis is good at re-branding the same old bullshit…or he is suffering from some Spiritual Alzheimer’s.

  22. FLL says:

    From Bill’s comment below: “The only way this pope is different is that he’s better at rebranding, just as Democrats are better at rebranding than Republicans.”

    Democrats? That is a classic example of threadjacking. I think it’s to be avoided.

  23. Quilla says:

    Well, then, let’s hope the sandbagger is in a dungeon.

  24. FLL says:

    I think the Pope was sanbagged by some pals of Kim Davis in New Hope, Kentucky—a publication called “Inside the Vatican,” which lists their address as “P.O. Box 57, New Hope, Kentucky. See my comment below.

  25. nicho says:

    First, I’m no big fan of the pope, but I still think Francis was sandbagged by some ultra right-wing bishop — maybe a cardinal — pissed off at Francis’ more “liberal” views or getting even for Francis demoting the anti-gay cardinal.

    Francis is nothing if not a politician — and an astute one. He’s not going to spend three days on a grueling tour of the US and then blow it all with a dark-of-night meeting with a piece of human plankton like Davis.

    This is a guy whose responsibility is the entire world. He doesn’t spend his time watching CNN or reading about culture war blips in US newspapers. Like most world leaders, he lives in a bubble and knows only what those around him tell him. He doesn’t have time for things like the Davis Brouhaha, not when he’s worried about Christian truly being persecuted by ISIS or Christian refugees swarming throughout Europe.

    In the Us, Francis spent his days meeting with presidents and congressmen, addressing the Congress, addressing the UN, listening to world leaders from all over. I’m guessing the guy was pretty wiped, and these nighttime meet-and-greet receiving lines are arranged by underlings. For Kim to claim that “the Vatican” invited her means nothing more than that someone in the pope’s US entourage invited her.

    It’s likely Francis had no idea who any of these people were until some aide whispered it in his ear. “This is Henry Schmidlap. He donated $1 million to a hospital.” “God bless you, Henry. Thank you for your generosity. Here’s a rosary.” And on and on and on.

    Then, some right-wing idoeologue bishop — about 99 percent of the US episcopate, whispers, “This is Kim Davis, She showed remarkable courage while defending her faith.” “God bless you Kim. Thank you for your courage. Keep up the good work. Here’s a rosary.”

    I’m guessing he is royally — ok papally — pissed. In the old days, whoever sabotaged him like that would be spending the rest of his very short life in a dungeon in the Castel Sant Angelo.

  26. Bill_Perdue says:

    The roman cult has few competitors when it comes to their levels of encouraging bigotry, the rape of children, the spread of HIV, the oppression of women and children and financial greed.

    People keep claiming that Bergoglio, who aided and abetted the right wing Argentinian junta that ‘disappeared’ and then murdered thousands of unionists and radical youth is somehow different than his predecessor and co-pope Ratzinger the Nazi. The only way this pope is different is that he’s better at rebranding, just as Democrats are better at rebranding than Republicans.

    The only way to have an effect in terms of limiting the damage done by the roman cult and other cults is to tax them, then prosecute them for child sexual abuse, then tax them, then secularize their schools, universities and hospitals, then tax them, then expel foreign born priests and then tax them until they fall and can’t get up.

  27. FLL says:

    The “story” of Kim Davis meeting the Pope was first reported by a website called “Inside the Vatican,” which is based in New Hope, Kentucky. Here is a link to the post on the Kentucky-based website. New Hope, Kentucky? Would you agree that something is rotten in the state of Denmark?

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