Pope Francis Met with Kim Davis, Told Her to ‘Be Strong’

By Deacon Keith Fournier Published on September 29, 2015

The news had been kept, as they say in Catholic circles when a cardinal is appointed without public pronouncement, in pectore. The Latin phrase, loosely translated, means “close to the breast” or “in the heart.” The news kept secret, broken today by Inside the Vatican magazine, was that Pope Francis had met in Washington with Kim Davis and her husband Joe. They met at the Vatican’s embassy after the pope’s address to Congress.

Davis, the controversial Kentucky county clerk who went to jail for refusing to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, was in Washington, D.C., to receive the “Cost of Discipleship” award from the Family Research Council.

The meeting was kept confidential to avoid any controversy prior to Pope Francis addressing the United States Congress. (The news was also confirmed by Davis’s lawyer, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver.)

The Meeting

Inside the Vatican editor Robert Moynihan gives the following details of this warm and encouraging meeting, which Davis gave him shortly afterwards.

Pope Francis entered the room. Kim greeted him, and the two embraced. . . . “The Pope spoke in English,” she told me. “There was no interpreter. ‘Thank you for your courage,’ Pope Francis said to me. I said, ‘Thank you, Holy Father.’ I had asked a monsignor earlier what was the proper way to greet the Pope, and whether it would be appropriate for me to embrace him, and I had been told it would be okay to hug him. So I hugged him, and he hugged me back. It was an extraordinary moment. ‘Stay strong,’ he said to me. Then he gave me a rosary as a gift, and he gave one also to my husband, Joe. I broke into tears. I was deeply moved. Then he said to me, ‘Please pray for me.’ And I said to him, ‘Please pray for me also, Holy Father.’ And he assured me that he would pray for me.”

Joe told Kim that he would give his rosary to her mother, who is a Catholic. And Kim then said that she would give her rosary to her father, who is also a Catholic.

On the flight back to Rome, Francis was questioned about the conscience rights of government officials who can’t uphold a law. People who’d seen the film of Francis answering questions from journalists on the flight back to Rome, Moynihan reports, “are persuaded that he had in mind not a theoretical issue of conscience, but a specific person, someone he had met and embraced — someone whose burden, as a loving pastor, he had taken on his own shoulders. He was thinking of this person when he answered those questions.”

Asked by Terry Moran of ABC News if he supported government officials who could not in conscience fulfill their duties, Francis responded:

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. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying “this right that has merit, this one does not.”

He mentioned being moved when reading the medieval poem Chanson de Roland where people are forced to choose between baptism and death. “ They weren’t permitted conscientious objection. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights.”

Moran followed up by asking if this applied to government officials. “It is a human right,” Francis answered, “and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.” This is, as I wrote here, part of Catholic Social Teaching.

Encouraging News

The news of this important meeting and the clear support shown by Pope Francis for Kim Davis will cause shockwaves. For those who have followed the matter closely, it should come as no surprise. For faithful Christians across the confessional spectrum, it should provide much needed encouragement.

Kim Davis is a sincere Christian whose incarceration was not only a violation of her constitutional rights but an abuse of power. She should and could have been accommodated, and the constitution requires that such treatment be provided. Instead, she was jailed for being a Christian who does not separate her faith from her life. The meeting gives us one more insight into this pope and his message to all Christians.

Why did the pope meet Kim Davis? Robert Moynihan gives this answer: “The Holy Father is considered by many to be the father of all Christians, and is a man of compassion, a man ready to listen to and to comfort all who have suffered for their faith.”

It was the Holy Father’s explicit request to visit a prison in Philadelphia, and he took the time to speak with each of the 100 prisoners he met on that occasion. This is the attitude that prompted the Holy Father to receive Kim, who had been in jail. And her response, from the very first moment of the meeting, showing great affection toward the Holy Father, showed that she responded to this desire of his to comfort her.

The meeting with the Holy Father was a moment of consolation for Kim. It strengthened her conviction, she told me, to obey the law of God, before the law of man.” He continued, “ the Pope on September 24 clearly “wrapped his protective mantle” around Kim Davis, discreetly, in private, in a way completely hidden from the world, but in a way that was deeply moving for her personally, as a person of conscience.

Media reports on whether Pope Francis was aware of Kim Davis when he gave those clear responses to Terry Moran indicated that he did not know about her. He did. Stay tuned. Francis hasn’t stopped speaking for the rights of conscience.

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