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