October 2018 Church & State | People & Events

A Roman Catholic Church official has asserted that the Vatican’s story of how Pope Francis came to meet in 2015 with Kim Davis, a clerk in Rowan County, Ky., who was much in the news at the time after she went to jail rather than allow same-sex couples to get marriage licenses, is a lie.

Davis and the pope met in Washington, D.C., during Francis’ fall visit to the United States. At the time, many people wondered why the pope, who had a full schedule, had taken the time to meet with her. Francis’ decision to do so was interpreted by Religious Right groups as an endorsement of her anti-LGBTQ crusade.

Vatican officials insisted it was all due to a misunderstanding. The pope, they said, didn’t know about the meeting in advance and had no idea who Davis even was. They insisted that the meeting was just a brief encounter and a mere courtesy.

“Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said at the time. Church officials went out of their way to point out that Francis had also granted an audience to Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man he knew from his time in Argentina. Grassi brought his partner, Iwan Bagus, and some friends.

Now doubt is being cast on that version of events. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former Vatican ambassador to the United States and a known critic of Francis, claims that several high-ranking church officials, as well as the pope himself, knew of the meeting with Davis beforehand and were well aware it would spark controversy – but went ahead with it anyway.

In an open letter published in late September, Vigano claims he set up the meeting between Francis and Davis. He also says he gave the pope a one-page memo about Davis before the two met on Sept. 24, 2015.

Vigano has also claimed to have consulted with two highly placed church officials, Archbishop Paul Gallagher and Archbishop Angelo Becciu, before making final arrangements for the pope’s meeting with Davis and secured their approval.

Critics of Vigano say he has ulterior mo­tives. An ultra-conservative and anti­-LGBTQ activist who has been critical of Francis’ tenure, Vigano published his allegations through far-right Catholic websites. Recently, Vig­ano caused a stir when he penned an 11-page letter accusing the pope and other church officials of covering up al­legations of sexual abuse lodged against Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., and called on Francis to resign.