Yesterday, Charles P. Pierce wrote an article suggesting that pope Francis was likely tricked into meeting with Kim Davis by those in the hierarchy of the Catholic church who are more loyal to ex-pope Ratzinger and are unhappy with the direction that Francis is taking the church. These people may have felt that having Francis appear to be endorsing such an anti-gay bigot like Davis would leave a sour taste in the mouths of people who had been swooning over his visit to the US. Here’s how Pierce thinks the plan was implemented by Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the papal nuncio to the United States,
Here’s what I’d do. I’d arrange for the pope to meet Davis, but not as an American culture war celebrity, but as a devout Christian whose faith is under vague assault. (I would not mention the three marriages or the fact that she took an oath before god to do her job. I mean, why burden the poor old fella with details, right?) I’d shuffle her through the process and she gets some vague words of encouragement from the pope, who otherwise doesn’t know her from any other hick who gets sent his way. I’d sit on the news for the entire rest of the pope’s trip, even enlisting Davis’s publicity-hungry legal team in that effort.
However, as the pope is preparing to go wheels-up in Philadelphia, I’d get the word to a reporter – say, Terry Moran of ABC. On the plane ride home, Moran would ask the pope a vague question about “religious liberty,” without mentioning Davis’s name, which seems a curious omission for a veteran journalist to make. The pope again would give a fairly anodyne answer about freedom of conscience with which nobody can disagree. Then, with the pope safely back in Rome, I’d leak the news to a conservative Catholic website and wait for the inevitable explosion. (Implicit in this strategy are two facts: a) that the pope doesn’t know who Davis is or the facts of her situation, and b) that the Vatican press office will resort to its default position of clumsy semi-stonewalling when the story breaks.) When it comes, lo and behold, Kim Davis gets to give an exclusive interview to ABC, the same network that employs the reporter who asked the question on the airplane. But to pull this off, I’d need someone with serious clout within the Church bureaucracy. And this is where Vigano comes in.
The man is a real player within the institutional church. He first came to prominence as a whistleblower during one of the several investigations of the Vatican Bank, which may be what got him exiled to this godless Republic in the first place. Despite that fact, 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.
Today the Vatican issued a statement that seemed to suggest that Pierce had nailed it. The statement explained how the meeting came about and sought to put distance between Francis and Davis by saying that she had been invited by the Vatican ambassador Vigano.
Pope Francis did not ask to meet a Kentucky county clerk who had been jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples and did not offer her unconditional support, the Vatican said on Friday.
Looking to limit controversy after last week’s meeting in Washington between the pope and Kim Davis, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said she was one of “several dozen” people who had been invited by the Vatican ambassador to see Francis.
“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,” Lombardi said in a statement.
A senior Vatican official, who declined to be named, said there was a “sense of regret” within the Holy See over the encounter, which sparked widespread debate in the United States, overshadowing almost all other aspects of the pope’s visit.
He added that Davis had been in a line of people the pope had met at the Vatican embassy in Washington before he left for New York.
I think Pierce is right in his analysis. This episode tells us more about the devious politics of the Vatican than about same-sex marriage.The fact that Francis may well have been tricked into a meeting with Davis does not of course mean that he secretly supports same-sex marriage. The Catholic church is dogmatically opposed to it and will remain so for the foreseeable future and there is no reason to think that Francis does not agree with that. But he clearly wants to put that issue on the back burner.