Pope Francis met secretly in Washington last week with Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who defied a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, her lawyer said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. Francis gave her rosaries and told her to “stay strong,” the lawyer said.
Ms. Davis and her husband, Joe, were sneaked into the Vatican Embassy by car on Thursday afternoon, according to Ms. Davis’s lawyer, Mathew D. Staver. The couple met for about 15 minutes with the pope, who was accompanied by security, aides and photographers. Mr. Staver said he expected to receive photographs of the meeting from the Vatican soon.
Ms. Davis, the Rowan County clerk, has been at the center of a nationwide controversy over whether government employees and private businesses have a legal right to refuse to serve same-sex couples. She spent five days in jail for disobeying a federal court order to issue the licenses.
Mr. Staver said that Vatican officials had been aware of Ms. Davis, and that the meeting had been arranged through them, not through bishops or the bishops’ conference in the United States. He would not identify the Vatican officials.
Kim Davis on Fox News.
Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters
In his public addresses, the pope spoke in broad strokes about the importance of religious freedom. On the plane trip home, an American television reporter asked him about government officials who refused to perform their duties because of religious objections to same-sex marriage.
The pope said he could not speak specifically about cases but that “conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right.”
“It is a right,” he said. “And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”
The pope did not mention Ms. Davis by name, but added, “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise, we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying, ‘This right, that has merit; this one does not.’ ”
While in Washington, Francis also made an unscheduled stop to see the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns that is suing the federal government over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.
Ms. Davis and her husband were in Washington anyway to receive an award from the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group, in recognition of her stand against same-sex marriage.
During Ms. Davis’s visit to the Vatican Embassy, “the pope came to her and held out his hand,” Mr. Staver said.
Ms. Davis asked the pope to pray for her, which he said he would, and then the pope asked Ms. Davis to pray for him, Mr. Staver said. They spoke in English, he said, and the pope gave the Davises two rosaries. Ms. Davis gave the rosaries to her mother and father, who are Catholics.
Ms. Davis is an Apostolic Christian, a form of Pentecostal Christianity.
“He thanked her for her courage and told her, ‘Stay strong,’ ” Mr. Staver said.
Mr. Staver added that he, the Davises and Vatican officials had agreed to keep the meeting secret until the pope had left the United States because, he said, “we didn’t want the pope’s visit to be focused on Kim Davis.”
The meeting was first reported by Inside the Vatican, a publication edited by Robert Moynihan, an American who has covered the Vatican for many years.
A spokesman for the Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday evening.
Correction: September 30, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the publication that first reported the meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis. It was Inside the Vatican, not the Vatican Insider.
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