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Pope's Meeting With Kim Davis Puts A New Twist On His Visit


There was nothing spontaneous about the pope's secret meeting with Kim Davis last week. That's the Kentucky woman who spent five days in jail for contempt of court after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Here's her lawyer, Mathew Staver, speaking with NPR's Robert Siegel.


ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: How many days' notice did Ms. Davis have that this meeting would take place?

MATHEW STAVER: Probably about 10 days. And then the evening before -- on Wednesday night was confirmed, and then the meeting occurred on Thursday afternoon in Washington, D.C.

MONTAGNE: That was the day Pope Francis addressed a joint meeting of Congress. The meeting became public only days later when Kim Davis herself told a reporter about it. For some answers, we called Joshua McElwee in Rome. He's the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Good morning.

JOSHUA MCELWEE: Good morning. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Kim Davis's lawyer would not talk about who requested the meeting. What have you learned?

MCELWEE: Well, it's still very unclear at this moment. The Vatican has only issued a very short kind of noncommittal, non-denial statement. The Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said, I do not deny that the meeting may have taken place. I have talked to sources at the U.S. Bishops Conference who say the U.S. bishops had nothing to do with it. Other sources say one or two bishops may have done so kind of outside the scope of the whole Bishops Conference. To me, it looks like it could have been someone at the Vatican Embassy in Washington without the bishops' knowledge or maybe escorted Ms. Davis in secretly and kind of presented her to the pope. So it's very unclear if this is a meeting the pope meant to have or if it was a meeting that someone in the embassy thought the pope should have and kind of took action on their own account.

MONTAGNE: It would seem that everything on a papal trip is there to make a point. What might have been the point for Pope Francis in this meeting with Kim Davis?

MCELWEE: We don't know exactly how this meeting occurred and what the pope knew about her. Of course, just later on a press conference on the way back to Rome after leaving Philadelphia, he was asked about the rights of conscientious objection for people, and then he gave a very milk-toast, bland answer about generic rights of conscientious objection for people without mentioning Kim Davis, without mentioning same-sex marriage. So it makes me think that maybe he didn't even know who this person was or what was going on in that meeting.

MONTAGNE: It would be good for people to actually know to some degree, though, what the pope might be thinking here. Marriage in the Catholic Church is a sacrament. Is that different from the fact that he is perceived as trying to soften the church's posture towards gays and others who've been marginalized in the past?

MCELWEE: Well, yeah, I mean, I don't think we're going to hear this pope at any point say that gay marriage or same-sex marriage is OK with Catholic teaching. As you said, marriage in the Catholic Church is a sacrament, so something - a grace that two people express before God. I mean, at this point in time and - for as far as we know, all points of time - the church has taught that marriage is between one man and one woman. But what the pope has been really doing is talking about a culture of encounter, willing to kind of go out to the peripheries and meet with people and see where the Gospel might be touching them. And just because the church teaching might not allow same-sex marriage doesn't mean we cannot have relationships or cannot have communities with people in same-sex marriages, but for many people in those marriages or for many gay people, this meeting with Kim Davis kind of undermines that message.

MONTAGNE: Because here in America in recent years, same-sex marriage has come to be seen by many as a right.

MCELWEE: Yes, and for the Catholic Church, marriage is a sacrament, not necessarily a right. It's something that is a grace poured on by God throughout your life kind of like, you know, the sacrament of baptism or confirmation or for some people holy orders to become priests. And so there's a difference in language between sacraments and rights, which I think the church is still kind of working to kind of resolve.

MONTAGNE: Joshua McElwee is Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. He spoke to us from Rome. Thanks for joining us.

MCELWEE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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