The Church Owes Kim Davis an Apology
It’s possible that the Vatican and Kim Davis are both right in their understanding of what happened between her and the Pope at the Vatican embassy in Washington DC. But the subsequent treatment of Ms. Davis was still unjust.
The Davis team says she was invited to the Embassy to meet Pope Francis. The Papal Nuncio to the U.S. arranged this through three connections in Kentucky. On the appointed day the Vatican sent a van and an Italian security detail to pick her up. This detail in her story is very important in light of the subsequent statements of Vatican spokesmen.
Since it was a private meeting, the Vatican advised the quite recognizable Davis to try to disguise herself. She put up her hair.
Upon arriving inside the Vatican Embassy, Davis and her husband did see a large group of people in one room they passed by, which comports with the Vatican statement that there was a large meet-and-greet with the Pope for donors and benefactors. But the Davises were not included in that group. They were ushered into a private room where they awaited the Pope’s arrival. Shortly thereafter the Pope entered the room along with a few Vatican personnel, including a photographer.
The Pope and Davis spent a few minutes talking during which they asked each other for prayers, and the Pope told Davis to “stay strong,” which demonstrates he knew something about her situation. He gave her blessed rosaries. The meeting lasted a few minutes and the Pope left.
Vatican security returned Davis and her husband to her hotel.
The reason the Vatican asked Davis to keep the meeting confidential, at least for a while, was that they did not want the meeting to become the narrative of his U.S. visit. The Davis team agreed and kept the meeting secret, not telling a soul.
Three days later, on the plane back to Rome, ABC asked Pope Francis if government employees had the right to object and not participate in gay “marriage” in their official capacity. He said they did and said there is a human right to resist.
Though the Vatican has not confirmed this, the Davis team insists that two days later the Vatican approved the release of the story, which was first broken by Robert Moynihan at Inside the Vatican.
All hell broke loose.
Pressure groups came down on the Pope like all the stars and planets. And someone’s courage failed. Papal spokesman Federico Lombardi S.J. issued a statement that appeared to take the Vatican back a step or two from the Davis controversy. It’s worthwhile to read and then parse his statement closely.
The brief meeting between Mrs. Kim Davis and Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC has continued to provoke comments and discussion. In order to contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired I am able to clarify the following points:
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.”
It makes one uncomfortable and maybe a bit scandalized that the Vatican might be spinning and even obfuscating. Nonetheless, we must parse the statement.
First, Lombardi admits there was a meeting and respectfully refers to Mrs. Kim Davis by name (this is important in light of another much worse Vatican statement the next day).
Second, Lombardi places Davis’s visit within the context of others greeting the Pope. Lombardi refers to “several dozen.” That is a huge number of people. The Nunciature is large but “several dozen” is a large enough group to be noticed. Moreover, you would think at least a few of these few dozen would see and recognize Davis. Except, notice Lombardi doesn’t actually put Davis in this crowd. He does not place Davis in a line of people greeting the Pope. And why would they if the Vatican was so obviously concerned about keeping the meeting quiet?
Third, he says the “meeting” with Davis was not an official audience. What makes a “real audience” is not clear. The video taped meeting with the pope’s homosexual former student that was later released showed a meeting not unlike the one Davis says she had with Francis. Those massive gatherings with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square are called “audiences” by the Vatican website. Even meet and greets in the Vatican are called “audiences.” It seems the term “audience” is a moveable term.
Fourth, Lombardi says the Pope did not enter into the details of Davis’s situation and that the meeting should “not be considered a form of support in all of its particular and complex aspects.” No one expected the pope to talk in detail about her case. Nor does anyone expect the pope to endorse, let alone even know, the complexities of U.S. law and Davis’s response to it.
In short, the Vatican spokesman Lombardi took a step back but did not reject how Davis described the meeting.
However, at the same time other ideologues joined in and tried to put a finer point on Lombardi’s statement. An anonymous source in the Vatican said there was regret for the meeting “in the Holy See.” This is a meaningless claim. And from his self-constructed lofty perch, James Martin S.J. snottily swatted the lowly Davis away.
And then there was Father Tom Rosica, English language spokesman for the Vatican, an employee of Lombardi’s. Rosica strode to the microphone and using elements of Lombardi’s regrettable but still nuanced statement, but went much further and basically called Davis a liar.
He said, the Nuncio “invited a number of guests, his own choice, to greet the Pope, very brief greetings, and in the Pope’s characteristic kindness and hospitality he shook people’s hands and gave them Rosaries. In terms of why this person was invited, you’d have to ask the Nuncio.”
Note that Rosica, unlike Lombardi, placed Davis directly in that line of “dozens of people,” dozens of people who did not recognize one of the most recognizable faces in America and dozens of people who never said a word about seeing her there. Not one of these people has stepped forward to say, “Oh yeah, I saw Kim Davis there. She was in a line of several dozen of us waiting to shake the Pope’s hand.”
Perhaps the most revealing part of Rosica’s comment is that he couldn’t even bring himself to speak her name. Where Father Lombardi respectfully referred to “Mrs. Kim Davis,” to Rosica she was no more than “this person.”
Putting Rosica’s unfortunate statement aside, the Vatican and Davis may have looked at the same encounter and simply saw different things.
The Vatican wanted Davis to meet the Pope but she couldn’t have been placed in a group of dozens if the meeting was to be confidential. So they sent a van with security to secret her to the meeting. They placed her in a private room. They saw this as a “meet and greet” though a private one.
When the meeting became public, with the Vatican’s approval, ideologues inside and outside the institutional Church went insane and began making false charges that Davis and her team were exploiting the meeting for her own legal and political advantage and once more the leftwing media outclassed the Vatican press operation.
The result of this is that the Vatican has mistreated a good woman, an innocent whose only crime was accepting the Vatican’s invitation to be a guest in the Pope’s house.
The overreaction by anonymous sources, the nuanced step-back by Lombardi, and the over-the-top statement by Rosica have resulted in real harm done to Davis.
She did not deserve this and it should not have happened.
It is odd that the Catholic Church would so quickly quail at the approach of the gay lobby. It is odd that the Catholic Church is content to insult millions of Evangelicals by their mistreatment of Davis. Does hurting the feelings of a few gay activists really outweigh the profound issue of religious freedom and the growing alliance of Catholics and Evangelicals forged together by a hostile culture?
What should happen now is the Church should admit the meeting took place behind closed doors. The Church should release photos of the meeting. The Church should reiterate the Pope’s endorsement of the right in principle of government employees to decline participation in any aspect of gay “marriage.”
But immediately, the Church should apologize to Kim Davis.
Austin Ruse is president of the New York and Washington DC-based Center for Family & Human Rights.