Right Hand, Left Hand

In what appears to be a reversal of the Pope’s support for Kim Davis, it is the defenders of conscience rights who are stung with taunts from the progressives who were nursing their own stings days ago

The news this morning that the Vatican press office was walking back Pope Francis’ encounter with Kim Davis set off the Twitterverse and Blogosphere. 

Davis is the Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk who caused headlines when she was jailed for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples following the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex “marriages.”

Davis and her attorney met Pope Francis during his visit to Washington D.C.  Pope Francis is quoted as having encouraged Ms. Davis by urging her in English to “stand strong.” That meeting was not reported until September 30th, after the Pope had arrived back at the Vatican. When the news of the Davis meeting with the Holy Father hit the wires, progressive factions howled in protest.  Many had hoped that Pope Francis was “their” pope, a pope of popular progressive vision. His meeting with Kim Davis—their poster person for intolerance toward gay “marriage”—was clearly felt by progressives as a betrayal. 

And today, with what appears to be a reversal of the Pope’s support for Kim Davis, it is the defenders of conscience rights who are stung with taunts from the progressives who were nursing their own stings just two days ago. 

One is tempted to be drawn into the drama but some simple statements can be made that might shed light, not heat. The Vatican press office issued these three clarifications today:

1. The Holy Father routinely greets many people during visits, but in Washington only one specific audience was granted—and not to Kim Davis. 

(Note the distinction between “greets” and “audience.” Davis was part of a group of “dozens” invited to the Nunciature to greet the Pope. It is easy to see how the meeting/greeting did not have the same weight in the Pope’s mind that it did in the mind of Ms. Davis, as he probably was not advised of the political aspects of her case. As it so happens, also made public today is that the one “audience” granted that day was to Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man and a former student of the Pope.  Grassi reports that the Pope does not agree with him “on same-sex rights” but that the Pope also does not judge him. What is foundational is that the Pope was encouraging to Davis and Grassi as human beings undergoing their struggles. No rights were accorded to the same-sex situation of Grassi.) 

2. Fr. Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, pointed out that the Pope “did not enter into the details” of Davis’ case and that the meeting “should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.” (Note the nebulous term, “complex aspects”, which likely means “we had no idea how politicized this situation would become.”)

3. Fr. Thomas Rosica C.S.B., of Salt and Light media is the English language assistant to Holy See Press Office. This morning he told journalists assembled in preparation for the Synod on the Family, which opens Sunday, that he did not think that the Pope’s meeting with Davis was “a matter of being tricked as of being fully aware of the situation and its complexities.” (Note the use of “complexities” again, which is Vati-speak for “we must allow space for a more nuanced presentation; please stand-by.” Also note introduction of the idea of the Vatican being “tricked”—perhaps similar to the White House inviting Nuns-on-the-Bus and prominent homosexual advocates to the Papal reception without approval from Rome? )

We can expect any undertaking as massive (and complex!) as a papal visit to include situations where the right hand does not know what the left is doing. Still, when the right-left, push-pull of the Kim Davis meeting/encounter/greeting with Pope Francis fades from the headlines, what remains is Pope Francis’ definitive statement regarding the right to conscientious objection, even for government employees—that is, including Ms. Davis. This is what the Holy Father said to ABC News before he was apprised later of exactly what the Kim Davis case meant in the American political landscape:

I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection. But, yes, I can say the conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right. Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right…. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights.

“Would that include government officials as well?” ABC reporter Moran asked.

Pope Francis replied,  “It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Mary Jo Anderson 32 Articles
Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and speaker whose articles and commentaries on politics, religion, and culture appear in a variety of publications. She was appointed to the USCCB's National Advisory Council (NAC) from 2010 to 2014 and served as member of the NAC Executive Committee in 2011. She covered the Synods from Rome in 2014, 2015, and 2019. She is the co-author of Male and Female He Made Them: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions (Catholic Answers). Follow her on Twitter @maryjoanderson3.