AFP / Brendan Smialowski | Pope Francis travels to a Mass for the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Pope Francis secretly met Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, during his visit to the US last week and offered her words of encouragement, she and her lawyer told American media Wednesday.
Rowan County Clerk Davis said her husband met with the pope during the Washington leg of his US visit, after the Vatican reached out to her several weeks ago.
“It was really very humbling to even think that he would want to, you know, meet me or know me,” Davis told the ABC television network. “I put my hand out, and he grabbed it, and I hugged him, and he hugged me and he said, ‘Thank you for your courage’.”
“He told me before he left, he said, ‘Stay strong’. That was a great encouragement,” Davis said.
Davis said knowing that the pope agreed with what she was doing “kind of validates everything”.
ABC said the pope gave Davis a rosary, which she plans to give to her Catholic parents.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi confirmed the meeting had taken place, but refused to reveal the content of the conversation between Davis and the pope.
“I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no comment to add,” he said in a statement.
Mat Staver, Davis’s attorney and founder of the Liberty Counsel, told CBS News that the pope met Davis and her husband at the Vatican embassy in Washington last Thursday.
The report of the meeting came after Pope Francis largely avoided the contentious issue of same-sex marriage during his historic visit to the United States, where he addressed Congress, met with the homeless and urged the country to welcome immigrants.
Human rights issue?
The pope, speaking to reporters as he returned home from his 10-day trip to the US and Cuba on Monday, said government officials had a “human right” to refuse to discharge a duty if they felt it violated their conscience.
Staver, whose client was jailed for five days in September for refusing to comply with a judge’s order to issue the licenses in line with a US Supreme Court ruling, told CBS his team did not want to disclose the meeting until now to avoid interfering with the pope’s broader message during his visit.
Davis has said her beliefs as an Apostolic Christian prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Her church belongs to a Protestant movement known as Apostolic Pentecostalism.
Conservative Christians, including some Republican presidential candidates, have said Davis is standing up for religious freedom.
But the American Civil Liberties Union, which went to court to ensure same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses in Rowan County, has argued she has a responsibility as an official to issue the licenses, regardless of her views.
The ACLU, in papers filed on September 21 with the judge hearing the case, asked the court to require Davis to stop making alterations to the licenses, such as removing any reference to the Rowan County clerk’s office.
(DailyGlobeWatch with Reuters)