After days of confusion, the Vatican issued a statement Friday clarifying Francis' Sept. 24 meeting 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 due to the pope's "kindness and availability" and that the pope only really had one "audience" 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.
Charlie Pierce has his own take on Pope Frank's meeting with Kim Davis: He thinks the church's right-wingers set him up to undermine him and deflate his popularity. Go read the entire thing, it makes sense:
I spent a little time Wednesday night examining my conscience, as we used to say around the ol' confessional, as regards the meeting between Papa Francesco and noted civic layabout Kim Davis. This contemplation was prompted by two things: first, an e-conversation I had with someone who had been part of the papal travelling party and second, the appearance of E. J. Dionne on Lawrence O'Donnell's show on MSNBC. According to the first person, there were a great number of people during the pope's tour who were simply hustled in and out for informal private audiences. According to Dionne, the meeting between Davis and the pope was brokered by Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the papal nuncio to the United States at whose residence the pope stayed during his time in Washington, which is when the meeting took place.
Together, these facts set off my Spidey Sense about Vatican chicanery.
Before we continue, let us stipulate a few things. First of all, let us stipulate that there are more than a few members of the Church's permanent bureaucracy, both within the Clan Of The Red Beanie and without, who are not happy that this gentleman got elected Pope, and who are not happy with what he's done and said since he was. Second, let us stipulate that many members of this group are loyal to both former pope Josef Ratzinger and, through him, to the memory (and to what they perceive as the legacy) of John Paul II who, for good and ill, had a much different idea of how to wield a papacy than Papa Francesco does. Third, let us stipulate that this opposition to the current pope has been active and vocal,to say nothing of paranoid.
Finally, let us stipulate that, for over 2000 years, the Vatican has been a hotbed of intrigue, betrayal, and sanctified ratfcking on a very high scale. (It also has been a hotbed of, well, hot beds, but that's neither here nor there at the moment.) So, if you're one of these people, and you're looking to ratfck the pope's visit to the United States, and to his agenda in general, you'd be looking to put him in a box. So, how would you do that?
Ratzinger's fingerprints are all over this story. Vigano is a Benedict loyalist. Robert Moynihan, whose newsletter, Inside The Vatican, got the story first, is an actual lifelong Ratzinger protégé. And the Vatican press office acted just the way I'd want it to act, if I were the guy setting this up. First, it issues a silly non-denial denial, and then it merely confirms that the meeting occurred. At which point, the office clams up, leaving the story festering out there in the news cycle, and leaving the pope out there in the American culture war to twist in the wind. And, if this scenario is in any way accurate, it had its desired effect. The impact of what the pope actually said and did in America has been fairly well ratfcked.
Of course, this speculation depends vitally on the proposition that Papa Francesco didn't know who Kim Davis was, or anything about her current public display of faith-based goldbricking. I don't find that so very hard to believe; for all the attention it's gotten over here, it's not an international story of any consequence. (Whether he should have known about it, or have been briefed about it beforehand, is another matter entirely, as Dan Savage pointed out on Chris Hayes's program Wednesday night.) And, it can be argued, I guess, that I'm engaging in apologetics here. But the whole thing is just a little too hinky, and I know too well how these birds operate. They've had millennia to get really good at it.
Yesterday, Michael Sean Winters wrote in the National Catholic Reporter (a publication known for critical coverage of the church):
So, in response to Ivereigh and Allen, let me offer an alternative theory of how the meeting happened and what it means: Somebody messed up. A source at the bishops’ conference told me on background that the meeting happened “against the advice of the bishops’ conference.” Other reports in both the Washington Post and the New York Times agree that the meeting was arranged by a “Vatican official.” Seeing as the meeting happened at the nunciature in Washington, it could only have happened with the approval and participation of the nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. Perhaps he did not understand how Davis’ case was not really an instance of conscientious objection. Perhaps, he felt sorry for her, as I did, because sending that poor woman to jail was overkill by the judge. Perhaps he did not see how the news of this meeting would trample on the pope’s message and begin to drown out everything else the pope said or did during his six days here. Of course, it is a nuncio’s job to know such things and, most especially, not to put his boss in a compromising position. If the president visits a foreign country, and the ambassador, against the advice of the State Department, nonetheless introduces the president to someone who causes a controversy that reflects badly on the president, that mistake is laid at the feet of the ambassador, not the president. If this meeting was all the nuncio’s doing then he should, in conscience, quit too.
As for what it means, here is my hunch: The pope knew about Davis what the person introducing them told him about her. If she was introduced as someone who went to jail because of her commitment to traditional marriage, then I do not find it surprising that the pope embraced her and wished her well. The pope met many, many people during his trip and as the ever-quotable Fr. James Martin S.J. pointed out, “Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pope Francis met with Mark Wahlberg, and that does not mean he liked ‘Ted’.” Watching the video of the interaction on the plane between Terry Moran and Pope Francis, it did not appear that the pope was connecting Moran’s question with any meeting he had four days prior. And, Moran’s question was also poorly framed, premised on the false assumption that Davis’ case is a case of conscientious objection.
We know something else. This story is now in the hands of Davis and the Falwell empire, neither of which have much knowledge of, nor institutional loyalty to, the Catholic church. Until the Vatican or the bishops’ conference gets out front of this story, Davis and her evangelical lawyers will be the only ones explaining what happened and what it meant. The Vatican’s “no comment” is woefully insufficient. The headlines yesterday morning almost all had the words “secret meeting” and surely at the Vatican they know that people are attracted to secrets. This story will not go away. Various news accounts have people calling the pope “a liar” and “a coward.” That is not a good thing if you are tasked with press operation for the pope. Someone needs to say something or we will only know what Davis and her lawyers want us to know. The rest will be speculation, endless speculation. Non-stop speculation. If the pope was badly served by his staff, let that be known. If the pope was badly served by himself, let that be known. But, neither the bishops nor the Vatican can afford to let this fester another minute.
The right-wing bishops and cardinals can't stand this pope. I find it a lot more likely that Pope Francis was set up by these pompous, self-important blowhards than the idea that he was merely pretending to be the People's Pope.
As Pierce would say, your mileage may vary.