The other shoe finally dropped. And then a third one dropped, too.
More than two days after the meeting Pope Francis had with Kim Davis made headlines and spawned a global debate the Vatican issued a clarification about the nature of the meeting, downplaying any support by the pontiff of the Kentucky court clerk’s stand against issuing marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples.
But just hours after that revelation, CNN reported something even more surprising: the day before Davis encountered Pope Francis, the pontiff had a private, personal meeting with a gay couple and their friends. More surprising, it was the pope who had requested the meeting with the Argentine gay man, who was his high school student in the 1960s, and the man’s partner of 19 years, saying that he wanted to give the former student a hug. You can watch the video of their meeting here:
CNN’s Daniel Burke wrote:
“Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man, brought his partner, Iwan, as well several other friends to the Vatican Embassy on September 23 for a brief visit with the Pope. A video of the meeting shows Grassi and Francis greeting each other with a warm hug.
“In an exclusive interview with CNN, Grassi declined to disclose details about the short visit, but said it was arranged personally by the Pope via email in the weeks ahead of Francis’ highly anticipated visit to the United States.
” ‘Three weeks before the trip, he called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug,’ Grassi said. . .
“Grassi said the Pope has long known that he is gay, but has never condemned his sexuality or his same-sex relationship. Grassi said he and Iwan (he declined to disclose his last name due to privacy concerns) had previously met Francis in Rome.
“Greeting Iwan with a handshake, Francis says that he recalls meeting him, according to the brief video. At the end the meeting, the Pope hugs both men and kisses them on the cheek.
” ‘He has never been judgmental,’ Grassi said. ‘He has never said anything negative.’ “
In the Vatican statement explaining the Davis meeting, the Vatican alluded to the Grassi meeting, but did not explain the gay dimension of it:
“[T]he only real audience granted by the Pope at the nunciature (embassy) was with one of his former students and his family.”
Thus, what was already a complicated story becomes more complicated.
While I am glad to hear this story of the Grassi meeting, I still wish that Pope Francis would be more forthcoming about his personal experiences and relationships with LGBT people. That kind of openness would set a great example for bishops and other church leaders who cringe at the thought of any association with LGBT people or issues.
And while it is wonderful to hear of Pope Francis’ personal admiration for this gay couple, it would be much more effective if he would set up formal dialogues with LGBT Catholics to discuss church teaching, policy, and pastoral practice. As I stated two days ago, the time for vagueness, ambiguity, and secret meetings is over.
Had the Vatican responded more quickly and efficiently to the Davis story, so much ink and computer time could have been saved. When the pope has made statements that have been interpreted positively by progressives, the Vatican spokesperson is always swift to clarify that such an interpretation is wrong. They should have also been equally speedy in clarifying the insignificance of the Kim Davis meeting, saving much heartache and concern by people all over the U.S. and around the world.
Moreover, had the Vatican been more forthcoming about the context of the Grassi meeting, they would have immediately gained much respect and admiration from the LGBT community.
The Vatican’s statement on Davis was brief, and, in my reading of it, seems like it was crafted to emphasize that the pope was not supporting Ms. Davis’ cause. So, far from being a victory for the U.S. bishops who see Davis as a hero of “religious liberty,” the experience has turned into a confirmation that Pope Francis did not intend to make a statement of any sort of her case.
Indeed, it seems that this story has further confirmed the openness, albeit a small amount, of Pope Francis to personally engage with LGBT people and not treat them as pariahs. Yet, I wonder why the Vatican, besieged in the last few days by criticisms from the LGBT community, did not reveal the details of this meeting the pope had with a gay couple. It would have won great support for them and the pontiff. The pope is a public person and so his meetings have public significance. Was the Vatican totally unaware of the many repeated calls by LGBT Catholics for an opportunity to visit with him while he was in the U.S.?
In the last few days, rumors have been flying as to who might have been the initiator of the Davis meeting. That mystery still remains to be solved, acknowledged, and admitted.
“Somebody messed up. A source at the bishops’ conference told me on background that the meeting happened “against the advice of the bishops’ conference.” Other reports in both the Washington Post and the New York Times agree that the meeting was arranged by a ‘Vatican official.’ Seeing as the meeting happened at the nunciature in Washington, it could only have happened with the approval and participation of the nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.”
“Basilian Fr. Tom Rosica, a Canadian who assists the Vatican press office with English-language media, said Friday that the encounter between Davis and Francis was not organized by Vatican staff.
“Rosica said the Vatican was unsure who the meeting was organized by, and that it might have been an initiative by the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Vigano.”
Esquire magazine offered some strong evidence that points the finger, though non-conclusively, at Vigano:
“Vigano is well-known to be a Ratzinger loyalist and he always has been a cultural conservative, particularly on the issue of marriage equality. In April, in a move that was unprecedented, Vigano got involved with an anti-marriage equality march in Washington sponsored by the National Association For Marriage. (And, mirabile dictu, as we say around Castel Gandolfo at happy hour, one of the speakers at this rally was Mat Staver, who happens now to be Kim Davis’s lawyer.) In short, Vigano, a Ratzinger loyalist, who has been conspicuous and publicly involved in the same cause as Kim Davis and her legal team, arranges a meeting with Davis that the legal team uses to its great public advantage.”
Clearly, a definite answer is still needed.