As expected, the Left exploded with anger after the Pope Francis’s meeting with Kim Davis, even featuring theories that he was “swindled” into the meeting. In response to the growing controversy, the Vatican released a statement. Here it is, in its entirety:
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.
While the Vatican is obviously trying to defuse a storm of criticism from his friends on the Left, I’m not sure how this statement is substantively different from the Pope’s own words in an interview after the meeting:
On the flight back to Rome, he was asked if he supported individuals, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licenses to gays.
“Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right,” Francis said . . . “I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right,” he said, speaking in Italian.
“And if someone does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right,” he added. Francis said conscientious objection had to be respected in legal structures. “Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying: ‘This right has merit, this one does not.’”
This strikes me as a fairly straightforward plea for a robust system of religious accommodation for conscientious objection, not as an endorsement of any particular litigation strategy or legal case, and nothing in the Vatican statement undermines his words. There is apparently “regret” in some quarters of the Vatican over the meeting with Davis, but I don’t see any shift in the Pope’s support for conscientious objection. And in asserting her right to conscientious objection, Davis is hardly an extremist. Rather she fits within a long line of Christian dissenters from lawless and immoral government edicts.
While it’s disappointing (though not terribly surprising) to see the Vatican try to finesse the meeting, the fact remains that he met not just with Kim Davis but also the Little Sisters of the Poor, demonstrating — despite the Left’s longing to the contrary — that the Pope is not abandoning the church’s historic support for religious liberty and rights of conscience.