(Photo composite: Yahoo News, photos: Riccardo De Luca/AP, Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
This is what it sounds like when a pope gets mad.
On Friday, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi released anextraordinary statement, personally approved by Pope Francis, debunking nearly everything that has been reported this week about a meeting between the pope and Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The private meeting between Davis, her husband, Joe, and the pope, which Davis’ attorney says took place at the Apostolic Nunciature (Vatican Embassy) in Washington, D.C. last Thursday? It didn’t happen. Instead, Davis was one of “several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet [Pope Francis] as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City,” Lombardi said in the statement.
The statement stressed that “the only real audience” — private meeting— “granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.” As CNN reported Friday afternoon, that student, Yayo Grassi, happens to be an openly gay man who brought along his partner of 19 years. “Three weeks before the trip, [Pope Francis] called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug,” Grassi told CNN.
The idea that Pope Francis has been following Kim Davis’ case and requested a meeting with her? (“I’m just a nobody,” Davis told ABC News after her lawyer began asserting that she had met privately with the pope. “It was really humbling to think he would want to meet or know me.”) Not so. Father Tom Rosica, who assists the Vatican press office with English-language media, told the National Catholic Reporter that the encounter was not organized by staff at the Vatican, and might have been at the initiative of the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Viganò.
And the assertion that any meeting between Davis and the pope reflected the Holy Father’s support for her case? (Davis also told ABC: “Just knowing the pope is on track with what we’re doing and agreeing, you know, kind of validates everything.”) The statement is especially clear on this point: “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.”
Perhaps the most stinging line in the statement was this: “Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness.” Translation? He was only being nice. And woe to those who take advantage of that kindness for their own purposes.
While the controversy stirred up this week has focused on the surprise of Pope Francis meeting with Davis, the two figures really at the center of this story are her lawyer, Mat Staver of the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel, and Viganò, who has served as the Vatican’s ambassador in Washington since 2011.
As of Friday morning, Staver was sticking to his story, telling the Associated Press that Davis did indeed meet privately with the pope. By his own admission, Staver was not at the nunciature for the encounter, but he disputes the Vatican’s characterization, a characterization approved by Pope Francis, who was obviously in attendance.
That’s not out of character for Staver, who was forced to admit last week that a photo he presented at the Values Voters Summit, which he claimed showed a 100,000-person prayer rally to support Davis in Peru, was taken in 2014 and did not, in fact, have anything to do with Davis.