Commentators Analyze the Significance of Pope Francis' Meeting With Kim Davis

Yesterday’s news about Pope Francis’ meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples, went viral very quickly and evoked very strong reactions in people.  In almost four years of blogging, I can’t think of any story that has generated as many comments so quickly from our readers as this one has.  The news certainly struck a nerve in people’s minds and hearts.  How significant is this news?  Is it just overblown hype or a gesture which reveals the pope’s beliefs?

Pope Francis

New Ways Ministry issued a response to this news yesterday, and you can read it by clicking here.  Today, we offer some commentary from others on the matter.

Two leading Catholic commentators, Father James Martin, SJ, an America magazine editor, and John Allen, Jr., an editor of Crux, both offered explanations to try to downplay the importance of the meeting.  Martin made seven points, including:

“Pope Francis met with many individuals during his visits in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, at various locations and events. . . .

“It’s hard to know how much the Pope Francis knew about each individual who was introduced to him during his long trip to the United States. . . .

“His words to her, ‘Be strong,’ and his gift of a rosary seem to be the kind of thing the pope might do for anyone presented to him. . . .

“Most of all, despite what Ms. Davis said, a meeting with the pope does not ‘kind of validate everything.’ Again, the pope meets with many people, some of whom he may know well, others of whom may be introduced to him as a reward for long service, and perhaps others who will use a meeting to make a political point.”

You can read all the points and explanations of Fr. Martin by clicking here.

Allen made some similar points in a Crux analysis:

“The fact that someone arranged a brief encounter between Francis and Davis does not necessarily mean that Francis initiated the contact, or even that he necessarily grasps all the dimensions of her case. . . .

“It would be over-interpreting things to read the meeting as a blanket endorsement of everything Davis has said or done. . . .

“[W]e don’t yet know how Francis sees the balance between honoring one’s conscience and upholding one’s responsibilities as a public official, because he hasn’t addressed that question at any length.”

Kim Davis

Martin and Allen are seasoned church and Vatican observers, and there is some truth to everything that they have written.  The question in this situation of the papal meeting is a question not of content, but of emphasis.  While the pope does meet with lots of different people, he also chooses not to meet with many, many others.  It doesn’t matter whether the meeting was short or perfunctory.  The fact that it happened at all highlights a choice that the pope and his meeting planners made, and that choice–along with his comments made in the plane ride interview the other day–puts a strong emphasis on where the pope’s administration stands on the issue of people who choose not to issue marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples.

The fact that Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi said there would be no further comment on the meeting other than to confirm that it happened is also troubling.  If the meeting was arranged by Davis’ lawyers or even the pontiff’s staff (as reported by The New York Times), then the Vatican should at least clarify that.

Others have also issued reactions to the news of the meeting.  DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a statement:

“The news that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis while failing to respond to repeated requests for dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families will be deeply disappointing to many Catholics, gay, trans, and straight alike.  It may be seen as putting the weight of the Vatican behind the US Catholic bishops’ claims of victimization, and to support those who want to make it more difficult for same-sex couples to exercise their civil right to marriage. This encounter could, in many people’s minds, transform the Pope’s US trip from a largely successful pastoral visit to the endorsement of an exclusionary political agenda.

“I fear that this meeting and claims that the Pope told Ms. Davis to ‘stand strong’ will embolden the many US bishops and others who continue to try to turn back support for LGBT people. It will make even more of us feel like the Pope’s message of mercy and love was not meant for LGBT people and families. It points again to the deep divide between Catholics who affirm and support their LGBT family members and friends, and the hierarchy, which is tragically out of touch.”

The Atlantic magazine sought comment from the top bishop in the U.S., who also lives in the same state as Davis:

“Joseph Kurtz, the archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky, and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wouldn’t comment on the meeting itself and how it came about, noting that he stayed about a mile away from the nunciature where Pope Francis stayed during his visit to D.C. But ‘I can comment on the fact that in Kentucky, I had said that I’m not a lawyer or a politician, but I had certainly hoped that room could be made for people of conscience,’ he said on Wednesday.”

Michelangelo Signorile, a noted gay writer, strongly criticized Pope Francis for this meeting.  In a Huffington Post essay, Signorile stated:

“I would have more respect for the pope if he had publicly embraced Kim Davis and made an argument for her, as he did in his visit with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are battling against filling out a form to exempt themselves from Obamacare’s contraception requirement, claiming that even filling out the form violates their religious liberty — even though I vehemently disagree with the pope on that issue. I’d have more respect if he boldly, explicitly made a public statement (not the vague, general statement he made on his plane on the way home only in response to a reporter’s question about Davis), as he did in trying to stop the execution of a Georgia inmate who was put to death this morning. But by meeting with Davis secretly, and then at first having the Vatican neither confirm nor deny the encounter — and now having the Vatican say it ‘won’t deny’ the meeting while it still won’t offer any other details — the pope comes off as a coward.”

Finally,  a Huffington Post news article reported on reactions to the news from LGBT Catholic advocates, including one of the newest on the scene:

“Aaron Jay Ledesma, a gay Catholic who was invited to the White House to help welcome Pope Francis last week, said the meeting between the pope and Davis does not in any way change his opinion of the pontiff.

” ‘The pope met so many people on his trip to the United States, so who am I to judge who he meets,’ Ledesma told HuffPost. ‘The meeting itself does not bother me — if anything she probably needs it.’

“What does bother him, Ledesma said, is that Kim Davis would use the meeting to push an agenda.

” ‘She’s using her faith and her meeting with Pope Francis out of context to justify her discrimination against gay people,’ he said. Ledesma said he doesn’t think the pope would approve of such discrimination, given his emphasis on love and compassion.”

So, what do you think?  Join the scores of other Bondings 2.0 readers who have already made their thoughts on this story known by making “Comments” on yesterday’s post.  Do you agree or disagree with any of the thoughts made by the commentators above.  Share your opinion on this important story by posting in today’s “Comments” section.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

ThinkProgress: “Everything We Know About Kim Davis’ Alleged Secret Meeting With The Pope”

National Catholic Reporter: “Pope Francis met Kentucky clerk Kim Davis”

25 replies
  1. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    Mostly, I agree with James Martin, with some caveats. This is undoubtedly a major PR coup for team Davis – but is it really any more than that? We don’t know to what extent Francis was personally involved in the invitation, how much he knew of the background, or what he actually said to her, beyond her reports of it. Was this a stumble on Francis’ part, some poor advice from his advisers – or a tactical coup by influential US Catholic insiders? We just don’t know.

    My caveat is that this meeting is particularly disappointing considering that he has conspicuously failed to meet with LGBT representatives as you pointed out yourself, even though he has reportedly said he would “love to meet”. If so, he has a great opportunity this weekend, when the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics will be meeting in Rome.

    My second concern is that Francis is absolutely right to insist on the right to conscience. If we as LGBT Catholics try to water that down, we’ll be in big trouble – it’s the most important part of Church teaching that allows us to be openly gay, and still call ourselves Catholics in good standing. But all rights carry with them responsibilities. Davis wants it both ways: she wants the rights, but not the responsibilities. The really honourable thing for her to do, would be just to resign.

    (My full response is at

  2. CPP
    CPP says:

    Reblogged this on Passionist Partners' Blog and commented:
    “Aaron Jay Ledesma, a gay Catholic who was invited to the White House to help welcome Pope Francis last week, said the meeting between the pope and Davis does not in any way change his opinion of the pontiff.

    ” ‘The pope met so many people on his trip to the United States, so who am I to judge who he meets,’ Ledesma told HuffPost. ‘The meeting itself does not bother me — if anything she probably needs it.’

    “What does bother him, Ledesma said, is that Kim Davis would use the meeting to push an agenda.

  3. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    The Pope’s meeting with Kim Davis was a surprise and I do wonder who initiated it. What is so sad is that the Pope did not have time to meet with LGBT representatives who have been toiling for years and years for justice. Their cause is as conscience based as those of Ms. Davis. I shall continue to pray for the Pope as he requested many times. In the meantime, I pray that all GLBT brothers and sisters keep the faith and be true to their own God-given consciences.

  4. Nancy Corcoran
    Nancy Corcoran says:

    So disappointed…I see the meeting as a watershed event…and am grateful for MARY HUNTS analysis which she posted a week before Francis came.

  5. Father Richard
    Father Richard says:

    With all the deserving people, specially your group, wanting a brief time with the pope, I am outraged that he spent a second with here. As a retired monk and former Catholic, all the points he has scored with me are down the drain. If the Curia set this up to disrupt, it certainly worked. For me, never again

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen says:

      I agree with you Father Richard. I am done getting my hopes up for the Catholic church until something concrete and in writing happens by Pope Francis. Only a removal of its intrinsically moral evil teaching on homosexuality written back in 1986 by then Cardinal Ratzinger I believe, will light the pathway back for me and countless others. Right now, it is too dark in there.

  6. Fr Anthony
    Fr Anthony says:

    The problem is it was a private meeting of only her. Terrible. Time to get off the fence. What is your real opinion. I am very disappointed

  7. Lorna L Horishny (horishny)
    Lorna L Horishny (horishny) says:

    To equate the Pope’s merciful gesture as affirmation of Kim Davis is to miss the point entirely, folks. He made a very strong, supportive endorsement for following our consciences…ALL of us, not just her. We should be grateful to him for not singling out one side or the other. It is a human right to hold a sincere belief and not be denied. HELLO…that means we ALL have the same right as the people in San Francisco trying to get rid of Cordileone and the transgender people asking for the right to change their gender markers on their DL’s. It’s a human right, available to all. Think about it. God loves us all, not just those who agree with us.

    Sent from my iPhone

  8. tom shea
    tom shea says:

    it was a big mistake for francis no matter who planned it!! and very sad for those of us who had hoped for more from him on this issue.

  9. Fr. Terry McCloskey
    Fr. Terry McCloskey says:

    News reports are coming to light that this meeting was arranged by the Apostolic Delegate -at this residence, and he is known for his conservative stands. It is very likely that the Pope really didn’t know anything about Kim Davis, but trusted the Apostolic Delegate. I wonder if he will regret his meeting as he learns more about the facts, and the purpose of this meeting arranged by the Nuncio who probably had his own agenda.

  10. Ed Hawkins
    Ed Hawkins says:

    Pope Francis has done a lot to give hope to us peripheral Catholic gay people: hope, at least, that we might have an open heart in the Vatican. I refuse to give up that hope simply because he met with this woman. Although I wish the meeting hadn’t happened, I realize that the Holy Father wants to be open to all, to be Jesus to all. and that includes Ms. Davis. Although this secret meeting is disturbing, I still am overwhelmed that Mo Rocca was invited to give a very public reading from Isaiah at the Holy Father’s Mass at MSG. If this holy man won’t judge me, then I promise not to judge him. Viva il Papa!

    • Terrance Wagner
      Terrance Wagner says:

      I agree with you. She is getting way to much publicity…She is part of the righteous people like in the time of Jesus who were always trying to get him on some law etc This really has people talking thnough and I am beginning to tire of it LOL

  11. Stephen Fratello
    Stephen Fratello says:

    I think they are minimizing this and downplaying it’s importance. First of all, why did it have to be a secret? Second, why did he not meet with ANY LGBT advocates or lay people? But mostly, why was it done so sneakily and behind closed doors and then why did he get on a plane home and all of sudden start making conservative remarks about religious liberty and it being a right? And if he was going to meet with her, he should have met with a gay married couple as well. I am tired, TIRED of people trying to cover for Pope Francis and put a positive spin on something that isn’t so positive. Stop. Just stop. We are not stupid.

  12. Jerry Betz
    Jerry Betz says:

    Kim Davis did not fly to Washington from Kentucky, walk up to the Nuncio’s house, ring the doorbell and say, “I want to talk with the Pope.” If the meeting occurred, it was arranged by a bishop. How much Francis knew about this woman is not known, but the bishop who arranged the meeting knew very well the impact of a sound bite.

    When Francis responded on the plane to the reporter’s question about conscience, he made it clear that when a public official felt obligated by conscience to do something, “he” had the right to do it. His use of that pronoun suggests to me that Francis was not associating his supposed meeting with Kim Davis to that question. And I, of course, agree with his response.

    GLBT folk, divorced and remarried persons, transgender people and many others will continue to have problems with our Church until the Church takes a hard, serious look at sexuality and reconciles its theology with modern science. Such a meeting cannot occur without the full participation of BOTH sexes who are experts in theology and the related areas of SCIENCE. Celebate men who have been taught to ignore their sexual instincts cannot continue to relegate so many normal people to third class citizenship.

    If the Pope and bishops do not call such a meeting, the Church should.

  13. Loretta Fitzgerald
    Loretta Fitzgerald says:

    See, Judge and Act:
    1. See: I “see” that Kim Davis may have met with Pope Francis. I also saw an AP article that Regali (grand jury in accused him of covering up 3 dozen sex abuse cases) was concelebrating Eucharist with Francis at the cathedral in Philly.
    2. Judge: I do not know Francis’s intention, whether he had anything to do with these two incidents or even aware. Therefore, I cannot judge his intention. However, I can judge the outcome of his actions, intended or not, perceived or real. This is called “scandal”, that is, something done publicly or known to the faithful that causes them or may cause them to lose faith. Therefore, the one whose actions are creating the scandal has to be held accountable. I think many people may lose faith in not only Francis but in God as a result of these stories.
    3. Act: First action, I propose that each of us affected by either or both of these known acts could write a letter directly to Francis, in respectful and non-accusatory language, of the hurt and betrayal, outrage we feel. As distraught as I was over the Davis incident, I cannot imagine the pain of a mother whose child was sexually abused seeing Ragli on the altar. (I was seriously worrying if Francis was going to have a heart attack as he looked so tired and stressed at the liturgy. I wonder now if he was internalizing Regali being there. Chaput invited him. Did Francis know beforehand?)
    The second action is that we have to proceed with the Golden Rule. Our sons and daughters are judged, then attacked and cast aside. As tempting as it is for me personally to dismiss Francis entirely from now on, I want to tell him what these actions did to me and my friends and family. I also think if someone from our community, maybe Francis DeBernardo, could physically take them to him because I don’t trust the gatekeepers. Why speculate? Why not just ask Francis himself what happened and what was he thinking. It can’t hurt to try.

  14. Melecio Medina
    Melecio Medina says:

    I am a gay Catholic I was insulted. I am sure those who set the meeting up were quiet proud of themselves. The after effects encourages bigotry in civil and church leaders. In my parish I have one priest who has condemn all gay people. He is now encouraged to continue to condemn us. I have seen families crying because a son or daughter is gay while the parishioner applauded this priest. I came out to this priest. My fear the Pope’s actions will condemn me.

  15. Andrea Senkowski
    Andrea Senkowski says:

    My question of the Pope’s closeted meeting with Kim Davis is “What did he know about Kim Davis and when did he know it?” That he might meet with a common person made famous for opposing marriage between gay people is disappointing but not devastating. That Pope Francis would choose to validate as a messenger someone thrice divorced and having born a child out of wedlock is crushing. Heterosexual bigots can feel empowered that whatever they do, they are not as sinful or worthy of scorn as homosexuals. If Pope Francis feels marriage between gay people is more of a threat to the family than divorce or births without marriage then he should say so. He owes Catholics a thoughtful detailed explanation of this meeting. As it stands, Pope Francis seems happiest as Chauncey Gardiner in “Being There”.

  16. Robert Kroner
    Robert Kroner says:

    What’s sad is that so many people pulled out their brass knuckles instead of the Golden Rule and immediately rushed to judgment, outrage, and even condemnation before knowing anything specific about the encounter. Yes, the Vatican could have been more forthcoming (and quicker!) in describing the circumstances, but we should have all been far more suspect of Ms. Davis and her attorney who have been mischaracterizing the facts and the law since she first entered the national limelight. We now know that her “private meeting” was really an audience, orchestrated by some as yet unknown person at the Nunciature, at which Ms. Davis was only one of several dozen people and that the Pope was not meaning to offer any public or private support to her political position. It is time for us, collectively, to take a deep breath and to continue to implore the Holy Spirit to fill this good and well-meaning man with wisdom and courage to enflesh the compassion of God despite all of the forces within and outside of the Vatican and the Church hierarchy that strive to undermine his efforts. There is yet a long way to go, but I am heartened to feel the winds of the Holy Spirit unleashed by Vatican II are again blowing through the dusty corridors of our Church.

  17. Jose Luis Sanchez
    Jose Luis Sanchez says:

    News of Pope Francis’ meeting with Kim Davis felt like a wake-up slap on my face. For 2.5 years since his often quoted “who am I to judge” statement, I’ve counted many warning signs that led me to think that his openness to LGBT people was just a warm conciliatory pastoral tone that would not translate into significant policy changes. Still, I was not ready for the underhanded and highly symbolic endorsement of resistance to U.S. Supreme Court-mandated, civil same-sex marriage equality that the Pope’s secret meeting with Kim Davis represented.
    After 2.5 years of Pope-watching, of nursing hope while speculating on his innuendos and ambiguous statements, it is high time to sober up and drop expectations of sexual justice from Pope Francis. Numbness has by now replaced the sting, and thirst for reflection is replacing my initial disappointment.
    I find it highly ironic that the Pope takes the protection of the family as his mantra, when it is LGBT people who are struggling to have the sanctity of our Rainbow Families recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, while the Pope himself, his cardinals, bishops and priests have committed to non-family centered lives. If these men are so committed to the family, why don’t they adopt and raise abandoned children themselves? (Ooops, wait a second, that could be dangerous for the children)! While the Roman Catholic clergy have been abusing children and its cardinals and popes have until 2013 been protecting pedophiles from prosecution, Rainbow Families have been adopting children and giving them safe and loving homes. It seems to me that Rainbow Families command a much greater moral authority on the subject of families than the Roman Catholic hierarchy, even if Pope Francis has finally acknowledged the scandal.
    It is also ironic that the Pope who refuses to recognize remarried Catholics, meets with, commends, hugs, and requests prayers from a non-Catholic in her fourth marriage! (I can almost hear comedians recommending remarried Catholics to abandon the Roman Catholic Church and match Kim Davis’ number of marriages to gain the Pope’s attention and approval)!
    As the celebrity aura that surrounds the papacy and its current charming occupant fades, I find Pope Francis’ contradictory statements and actions lacking foundation and logic, and his claims for moral authority on sexual justice sorely wanting. Pope Francis is indeed a savvy politician who knows how to balance the political left and the political right in his effort to bid for Congressional applause and to cover the schisms within the Roman Catholic Church. But covers don’t resolve conflicts, they merely hide them. His image of the RC Church as a “field hospital” is quite revealing of his short-term attempt to pacify the cries for acceptance and inclusion, rather than to solve the conflict. After his embrace of Kim Davis, the inclusion of an openly gay comedian in his NYC event shines as the hollow window-dressing attempt that it was. We don’t need a year of mercy. We need full acceptance and inclusion as we are.
    The Vatican is unwilling to break from the sex-phobic 1st century mindset that still dominates its attitudes and its doctrines. Its concept of spirituality and the sacred is still one that is divorced from our bodies. Our 21st century embrace of a sexually integrated spirituality is radically antagonistic to that 1st century mindset in which sexual activity is acceptable only for procreation under sacramental marriage.
    Can we expect celibate men who’ve renounced the divine gift of sexuality (at least officially) to be empathetic to pleas from straight and LGBT Catholics who aim or hope to live whole lives that integrate sexuality and spirituality? Until the Vatican joins the 21st century, I’ll be happy to identify myself (in the words of theologian Matthew Fox) as a Post-Vatican Catholic. – José Luis Sánchez


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] amid the Pope Francis-Kim Davis controversy and the Synod on the Family was news that the pope had met with a gay couple while […]

  2. […] the Vatican’s confirmation that Pope Francis neither knew who Kim Davis was nor meant to lend support for her cause and that […]

  3. […] the strong echoes from last week’s incredible set of news stories:  that someone arranged for Kim Davis to meet Pope Francis in Washington, DC; that Pope Francis himself arranged to meet with a former student who is a gay man with a partner, […]

  4. […] strong echoes from last week’s incredible set of news stories:  that someone arranged for Kim Davis to meet Pope Francis in Washington, DC; that Pope Francis himself arranged to meet with a former student who is a gay man with a partner, […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *