Pope Francis' private meeting with Kim Davis was just a greeting and should not be misinterpreted as an endorsement of her position, the Vatican said Friday.
As reported by the Gospel Herald, Davis spent six days in jail last month after refusing to honor a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis's lawyer, Mathew D. Staver, revealed on Tuesday that the pontiff privately met with the apostolic Christian clerk and encouraged her to "stay strong."
The meeting in Washington, which was originally kept secret, angered many liberal Catholics but encouraged conservatives, who saw it as a sign that the pope was clearly condemning a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage, Reuters notes.
In a statement released on Friday morning, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Vatican wanted to "clarify" what happened in order to "contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired."
"Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City," Lombardi said, referring to the Vatican's diplomatic mission. "The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects."
The statement also explained that the meeting could not be described as a formal audience.
"Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope's characteristic kindness and availability," Lombardi said. "The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family."
Davis was earlier this week quoted as saying that the pontiff was "on track with what we're doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything."
"There was no interpreter. 'Thank you for your courage,' Pope Francis said to me. I said, 'Thank you, holy father.' I had asked a monsignor earlier what was the proper way to greet the pope, and whether it would be appropriate for me to embrace him, and I had been told it would be okay to hug him," Davis added in an Inside the Vatican report.
"So I hugged him, and he hugged me back. It was an extraordinary moment. 'Stay strong,' he said to me. Then he gave me a rosary as a gift, and he gave one also to my husband, Joe. I broke into tears. I was deeply moved."
During his six-day visit to the United States, Francis emphasized a theme of religious freedom, which he called "one of America's most precious possessions," the Gospel Herald noted in an earlier report.
On his flight back to Rome, he also appeared to support Davis' decision when asked by a reporter if he supported "individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example when issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples."
He did not refer specifically to Davis in his reply, saying: "I can't have in mind all the cases that can exist about conscientious objection ... but yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right."