Just When You Thought the Pope Francis-Kim Davis Story Could Not Get More Surprising. . .

The other shoe finally dropped. And then a third one dropped, too.

More than two days after the meeting Pope Francis had with Kim Davis made headlines and spawned a global debate the Vatican issued a clarification about the nature of the meeting, downplaying any support by the pontiff of the Kentucky court clerk’s stand against issuing marriage licenses to lesbian and gay couples.

Yayo Grassi meets Pope Francis in Washington, DC

But just hours after that revelation, CNN reported something even more surprising:  the day before Davis encountered Pope Francis, the pontiff had a private, personal meeting with a gay couple and their friends.  More surprising, it was the pope who had requested the meeting with the Argentine gay man, who was his high school student in the 1960s, and the man’s partner of 19 years, saying that he wanted to give the former student a hug.   You can watch the video of their meeting here:

CNN’s Daniel Burke wrote:

“Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man, brought his partner, Iwan, as well several other friends to the Vatican Embassy on September 23 for a brief visit with the Pope. A video of the meeting shows Grassi and Francis greeting each other with a warm hug.

“In an exclusive interview with CNN, Grassi declined to disclose details about the short visit, but said it was arranged personally by the Pope via email in the weeks ahead of Francis’ highly anticipated visit to the United States.

” ‘Three weeks before the trip, he called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug,’ Grassi said. . .

“Grassi said the Pope has long known that he is gay, but has never condemned his sexuality or his same-sex relationship. Grassi said he and Iwan (he declined to disclose his last name due to privacy concerns) had previously met Francis in Rome.

“Greeting Iwan with a handshake, Francis says that he recalls meeting him, according to the brief video. At the end the meeting, the Pope hugs both men and kisses them on the cheek.

” ‘He has never been judgmental,’ Grassi said. ‘He has never said anything negative.’ “

In the Vatican statement explaining the Davis meeting, the Vatican alluded to the Grassi meeting, but did not explain the gay dimension of it:

“[T]he only real audience granted by the Pope at the nunciature (embassy) was with one of his former students and his family.”

Thus, what was already a complicated story becomes more complicated.

While I am glad to hear this story of the Grassi meeting, I still wish that Pope Francis would be more forthcoming about his personal experiences and relationships with LGBT people.  That kind of openness would set a great example for bishops and other church leaders who cringe at the thought of any association with LGBT people or issues.

And while it is wonderful to hear of Pope Francis’ personal admiration for this gay couple, it would be much more effective if he would set up formal dialogues with LGBT Catholics to discuss church teaching, policy, and pastoral practice.  As I stated two days ago, the time for vagueness, ambiguity, and secret meetings is over.

Had the Vatican responded more quickly and efficiently to the Davis story, so much ink and computer time could have been saved. When the pope has made statements that have been interpreted positively by progressives, the Vatican spokesperson is always swift to clarify that such an interpretation is wrong.  They should have also been equally speedy in clarifying the insignificance of the Kim Davis meeting, saving much heartache and concern by people all over the U.S. and around the world.

Moreover, had the Vatican been more forthcoming about the context of the Grassi meeting, they would have immediately gained much respect and admiration from the LGBT community.

The Vatican’s statement on Davis was brief, and, in my reading of it, seems like it was crafted to emphasize that the pope was not supporting Ms. Davis’ cause.  So, far from being a victory for the U.S. bishops who see Davis as a hero of “religious liberty,” the experience has turned into a confirmation that Pope Francis did not intend to make a statement of any sort of her case.

Indeed, it seems that this story has further confirmed the openness, albeit a small amount, of Pope Francis to personally engage with LGBT people and not treat them as pariahs.  Yet, I wonder why the Vatican, besieged in the last few days by criticisms from the LGBT community, did not reveal the details of this meeting the pope had with a gay couple.  It would have won great support for them and the pontiff.  The pope is a public person and so his meetings have public significance.  Was the Vatican totally unaware of the many repeated calls by LGBT Catholics for an opportunity to visit with him while he was in the U.S.?

In the last few days, rumors have been flying as to who might have been the initiator of the Davis meeting.  That mystery still remains to be solved, acknowledged, and admitted.

 The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters offered this theory:
“Somebody messed up. A source at the bishops’ conference told me on background that the meeting happened “against the advice of the bishops’ conference.” Other reports in both the Washington Post and the New York Times agree that the meeting was arranged by a ‘Vatican official.’ Seeing as the meeting happened at the nunciature in Washington, it could only have happened with the approval and participation of the nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.”
Yet, in the same newspaper, a few days later, Vatican reporter Joshua McElwee cited a Vatican spokesperson’s explanation:

“Basilian Fr. Tom Rosica, a Canadian who assists the Vatican press office with English-language media, said Friday that the encounter between Davis and Francis was not organized by Vatican staff.

“Rosica said the Vatican was unsure who the meeting was organized by, and that it might have been an initiative by the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Vigano.”

Esquire magazine offered some strong evidence that points the finger, though non-conclusively, at Vigano:

“Vigano is well-known to be a Ratzinger loyalist and he always has been a cultural conservative, particularly on the issue of marriage equality. In April, in a move that was unprecedented, Vigano got involved with an anti-marriage equality march in Washington sponsored by the National Association For Marriage. (And, mirabile dictu, as we say around Castel Gandolfo at happy hour, one of the speakers at this rally was Mat Staver, who happens now to be Kim Davis’s lawyer.) In short, Vigano, a Ratzinger loyalist, who has been conspicuous and publicly involved in the same cause as Kim Davis and her legal team, arranges a meeting with Davis that the legal team uses to its great public advantage.”

Clearly, a definite answer is still needed.

I hope that both Pope Francis and the Vatican have learned some lessons from these experiences about communication and symbolism.  The main lesson that I hope they take away from these incidents is that many people are confused as to where Pope Francis stands on LGBT issues  If Pope Francis would clarify where he stands on some of the vague messages he has made with regard to LGBT issues, this whole media storm could have been avoided.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
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13 thoughts on “Just When You Thought the Pope Francis-Kim Davis Story Could Not Get More Surprising. . .

  1. Friends October 3, 2015 / 8:25 am

    Sorry, but I just can’t resist saying, “Told Ya So!” I posted from the very get-go, on this topic, that Kim’s LAWYERS had to be involved in setting up this evil plot — and I was told by a responder that there was “no evidence” for any such allegation. The missing link, now identified, was the Ratzinger Loyalist Papal Nuncio. Re-quoting the Esquire story: “In short, Vigano, a Ratzinger loyalist, who has been conspicuous and publicly involved in the same cause as Kim Davis and her legal team, arranges a meeting with Davis that the legal team uses to its great public advantage” Bingo. Kim Davis and her far-right-wing lawyers seem to be “The evil gift that keeps on giving” in the ongoing campaign against equal human rights for gay folks — in spite of the Supreme Court’s declarative decision which gave our people equal human rights under the Constitution. What to do about the evil antics of this “Christian” woman? I’m out of ideas. Impeachment for malfeasance in office — i.e., for refusing to do the job she’s being lavishly paid to do — is the optimal legal option. But good luck getting it to happen in Kentucky.

  2. Fredrikka Maxwell October 3, 2015 / 12:24 pm

    Wow! This is the first I’ve heard of the openly gay man and his partner and friends who met the pope. But if the Vatican’s ambassador to the US knew that, then  he would have seen  an opportunity  to sort of level the playing field by bringing Kim Davis into play. And she was the anti-LGBT side in her stance of not issuing marriage licenses to LGBT people. I was of the opinion that the ambassador was in essence undermining his head of state–the pope, and should therefore resign for the good of the church.   Hugs, Fredrikka Joy Maxwell

  3. Bill Freeman October 3, 2015 / 2:38 pm

    The Vatican played right into this intrigue by claiming on Monday to “neither affirm nor deny” that the Davis meeting had taken place. Imagine if he had met with a group of African Americans or Asians . . .

    • Frank October 5, 2015 / 2:05 pm

      The priest was canned because of the timing of his announcement which apparently was designed to conflict with the opening of the Synod on Family and Maariage. Also note that the priest was shown with his boyfriend, indicating that he was violating his vow of celibacy.

  4. JMS October 3, 2015 / 9:31 pm

    Pope Francis has not sent any mixed messages … he meets with prisoners – that does not mean he endorses their behaviors any more or less than his former student’s. He shows genuine love for the people who have been blessed to be in his presence – this includes his former student, the accompanying family and friends, the politicians, the poor, the addicted, the mentally ill and YES Kim Davis too. He is living embodiment of a Christian soul. We should all be inspired to be less judgmental and more forgiving.

  5. Jerry Baumeister, PhD October 3, 2015 / 10:00 pm

    I for one , am sick and tired of these secret meetings. Holy Father, if you have something to say, SAY IT OUTLOUD and not behind closed doors.

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