Pope Francis had a private meeting with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis during his US visit last week.
The pontiff hugged Davis, who was jailed earlier this month for refusing a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and encouraged her to “stay strong,” Davis told ABC News. The meeting at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC was kept secret at the time “because we didn’t want the pope’s visit to be overshadowed with Kim Davis,” her attorney Mat Staver said.
The Vatican declined to confirm or deny the meeting.
Pope Francis largely avoided the issue of gay marriage on his 10-day trip to the U.S. and Cuba. He told reporters near the end of the visit that government officials had a “human right” to refuse duties that violated their conscience, without specifically referencing Davis’ case.
Davis is a divisive figure—a martyr of religious freedom to some; a bigoted bureaucrat to others.
Following the US Supreme Court’s ruling in June that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, Davis asked to be excused from her office’s duty to issue marriage licenses to avoid having to do so for gay couples. She has called her stance on marriage licenses a “heaven or hell decision.”
US courts have called it illegal. Davis was jailed for five days after violating a federal court order to issue the licenses. She is now back at work, and her deputies are signing county marriages licenses instead.