Inside the Vatican
The Secret Meeting of the Papal Trip
Washington, D.C., September 29, 2015 — One meeting during Pope Francis' whirlwind trip to America has remained secret.
It was, arguably, the most significant meeting, symbolically, of the entire trip.
It should, therefore, be brought to the attention of the public, both in the Church, and in the secular world.
That the meeting occurred may, perhaps, spark controversy. This is evidently why it was kept secret. The Vatican evidently feared the "politicization" of a "pastoral trip" which clearly wished to emphasize the encounter with Jesus Christ, with the poor, with the faithful, with the handicapped, with children, and with all Americans of whatever background.
But there was also, evidently, a desire to meet with a person who has taken a controversial stand out of conscience.
The meeting is a fact, and facts are the material of which reality is composed, and human beings, though they cannot, as T.S. Eliot said, bear very much reality, strive nevertheless to live in reality. And reality cannot be understood without knowledge of the facts. Of what really happened.
(Here is a picture of Pope Francis on Sunday evening, September 27, on the airplane during his airplane press conference, after leaving the United States)
On Thursday, September 24, in the afternoon after his historic address to Congress, just a few minutes before flying to New York City, Pope Francis received, spoke with, and embraced Kim Davis — the Kentucky County Clerk who was jailed in early September for refusing to sign the marriage licenses of homosexual couples who wished to have their civil marriages certified by the state of Kentucky.
Also present was Kim's husband, Joe Davis.
Kim and her husband had come to Washington for another purpose -- Kim was to receive a "Cost of Discipleship" award on Friday, September 25, from The Family Research Council at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
"Thank you for your courage"
Pope Francis entered the room.
Kim greeted him, and the two embraced.
There is no recording of this conversation, or photographs, as far as I know. But "there is not any thing secret that shall not be made manifest, nor hidden, that shall not be known and come to light." (Luke 8:17)
Kim Davis gave me this account of the meeting shortly after it took place.
"The Pope spoke in English," she told me. "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. 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.
"Then he said to me, 'Please pray for me.' And I said to him, 'Please pray for me also, Holy Father.' And he assured me that he would pray for me."
Joe told Kim that he would give his rosary to her mother, who is a Catholic. And Kim then said that she would give her rosary to her father, who is also a Catholic.
Vatican sources have confirmed to me that this meeting did occur; the occurrence of this meeting is not in doubt.
Those who have seen the images of the film of the Pope answering the questions of the journalists on the airplane, on the matter of individual conscience, his determination and passion, are persuaded that he had in mind not a theoretical issue of conscience, but a specific person, someone he had met and embraced — someone whose burden, as a loving pastor, he had taken on his own shoulders.
He was thinking of this person when he answered those questions.
Why Did the Pope Meet Kim?
What was the purpose of this meeting?
Pope Francis met with Kim, embraced her, encouraged her, and, on the papal airplane, when asked the question cited at the outset, he stated, very strongly, that "conscientious objection" is "a human right."
It is not surprising that the Holy Father met Kim Davis. The Holy Father is considered by many to be the father of all Christians, and is a man of compassion, a man ready to listen to and to comfort all who have suffered for their faith.
It was the Holy Father's explicit request to visit a prison in Philadelphia, and he took the time to speak with each of the 100 prisoners he met on that occasion.
This is the attitude that prompted the Holy Father to receive Kim, who had been in jail.
And her response, from the very first moment of the meeting, showing great affection toward the Holy Father, showed that she responded to this desire of his to comfort her.
The meeting with the Holy Father was a moment of consolation for Kim.
It strengthened her conviction, she told me, to obey the law of God, before the law of man.
It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that, when the human law contradicts the natural law, it is not a valid law.
This encounter between Pope Francis and Kim Davis takes on new importance since the ACLU (the American Civil Liberties Union) has asked that Kim be held in contempt of court.
This means that, should the judge agree with the ACLU, Kim could again in coming days be ordered to be held in prison.
In this sense, the Pope on September 24 clearly "wrapped his protective mantle" around Kim Davis, discreetly, in private, in a way completely hidden from the world, but in a way that was deeply moving for her personally, as a person of conscience.
(to be continued)