Kim Davis, a Rowan County, Ky., clerk, celebrates her release Sept. 8 from the Carter County Detention center in Grayson, Ky. The Vatican Sept. 30 did not deny reports that while in Washington, Pope Francis briefly met with Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (CNS photo/Chris Tilley, Reuters)

Pope’s Meeting with Kim Davis Should Be Read ‘Cautiously’

Editors Note: On “America This Week,” America‘s weekly show on Sirius XM radio’s The Catholic Channel, editor in chief Matt Malone, S.J., spoke with Rome correspondent Gerard O’Connell about Pope Francis’ meeting with Kim Davis at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24. The Kentucky county clerk garnered national attention this summer for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Matt Malone, S.J.: We have this morning, this story breaking in The New York Times and elsewhere about this meeting which may have taken place between the pope and Kim Davis, the American elected official who objects as a matter of conscience to signing marriage certificates for same-sex couples. [The Vatican subsequently confirmed the meeting took place.] What do you make of this story, Gerry?

Gerard O’Connell: Look, I’ve been on many papal trips over the years and in many visits, there is an official program, and then there’s also many people, a lot of people, who want to meet the pope—or some bishop, or some cardinal, who thinks that [the pope] should meet this [person] and that one. And this happens. It is less scheduled, but people have found moments to fit in. On this trip he met quite a few different people to the best of my knowledge, also in Cuba. But this doesn’t mean that the pope is fully briefed on whom he is meeting. For example, when he went down to Madison Square Garden, he met some people there. You think the pope knew full well the whole background of the [people he met]? On the plane, he began his [comments] on the right to conscientious objection by saying, I do not know all the cases.

The many reports that I have seen in the media have eliminated this first line. And I think in a situation like this, somebody would have proposed [the meeting] to [the pope] and said it’s a good thing to meet this person. How much information they gave the pope is another question.

And so I think one has to read these private meetings cautiously….the Vatican has said we are not going to deny the meeting took place, but they are…playing it down quite considerably, because this kind of event tends to get blown up by one side or another for their own political purposes. And the pope, we saw very strongly in his speech to the Congress, he wants to overcome the polarization.

He was asked for example, why didn’t you meet the Cuban dissidents? And in actual fact, he met the leader of “The Women in White” in Rome…. He said that there wasn’t time and there wasn’t space for this. The president of another country wants to meet me, but I didn’t have [the meeting] in Cuba.

But [the pope] says, I like to meet people. I always feel enriched by meeting people. And so we see him meeting so many people, from very different parts of the political spectrum, very different parts of the church spectrum, religious people and non-religious people.

For example, here [in Italy] he met the editor of La Republica, the highest circulating paper in the country. And the first time, all of the conversation was meant to be private, [the editor] put the whole thing in the paper over two or three pages. When the pope met him the second time, he repeated the mistake, and so I don’t think the pope would meet him a third time.

I think one has to frame these meetings…if the pope wants to make a strong message, he will make a photo opportunity public for the person.