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Kim Davis: Will her 15 minutes with Pope Francis change views of his visit?

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Brendan McDermid/ Reuters

(Read caption) Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis speaks during an interview on Fox News Channel's 'The Kelly File' in New York last week. Davis later claimed that she had spoken with Pope Francis during his trip to the United States after Vatican officials invited her and her husband to meet him.

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Kim Davis’s five-day stay in a Kentucky jail after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her Apostolic Christian beliefs has won her admirers, and critics, in high places. Ms. Davis was memorably greeted by Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s at a rally to celebrate her release, a warm welcome that scored points with evangelical voters.

But Davis’s newest fan is both more powerful and, in this case, more low-key: Pope Francis, whose spokesman has seemingly confirmed that the pontiff invited Davis and her husband to a brief meeting during his trip to Washington last Thursday.

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Davis’s lawyer, Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, told CBS Tuesday night that his client kept news of the visit under wraps to avoid overshadowing Francis’ other activities during his first trip to the United States. 

Robert Moynihan, longtime reporter for Inside the Vatican, claimed that officials had confirmed the visit and recorded Davis’s account:

“Thank you for your courage,” Pope Francis said to me. I said, 'Thank you, Holy Father.' ... I hugged him, and he hugged me back. It was an extraordinary moment. “Stay strong,” he said to me.

Davis, who said she was “deeply moved,” also told Mr. Moynihan that the Pope asked her to pray for him, and vice versa.

According to The New York Times, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Wednesday, “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add.” An earlier statement had neither confirmed nor denied the Pope’s invitation. 

Before news of the meeting, Francis’ comments during the trip back to Rome were already being interpreted to refer to Davis’s case. Conscientious objection is a “human right,” he said, and must be respected by law: “Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying: 'This right has merit, this one does not.’”

The response was in keeping with Francis’ general approach of stressing compassion and dignity, a ‘big picture’ Catholicism rather than the specifics of church doctrine – a challenge during his highly anticipated, and highly politicized, visit to Capitol Hill, where his views on environmental stewardship, abortion, death penalty, and capitalism met some resistance from both parties.

The Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage, but Francis is more welcoming toward gay parishioners than his predecessors. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” he famously told reporters in 2013, helping to launch his worldwide popularity as a more approachable, less dogmatic pontiff.

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Staunch opponents of same-sex marriage and abortion would be disappointed by Francis’ homily at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia on Saturday, according to Guardian contributor Prof. Anthea Butler, where he again stressed God’s love for families more than what, exactly, a family should look like.

En route to the US last week, Francis told reporters it would be incorrect to call him “a little more to the left.” “This is the social doctrine of the Church. Nothing more, nothing less,” he explained, trying to counter claims that he is more in line with Democratic values. 

Will his quiet support for Davis change that reputation? It is too early to tell. But the Guardian may want to reconsider a recent headline proclaiming “Pope Francis scorecard: liberals take away biggest wins from pontiff’s US visit.”