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Will Pope Francis’s Visit With Kim Davis Undermine a Successful U.S. Trip?

Pope Francis secretly met with Kim Davis, one of the most outspoken opponents of gay marriage.

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Pope Francis, who recently completed a triumphant visit to the United States, has won plaudits for his seemingly progressive statements on homosexuality; in 2013, for instance, he said, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests. But during his visit, the pontiff secretly met with one of the better known opponents of traditional marriage, a quiet reminder that the church — and the pope — still strongly oppose legalizing gay marriage.

Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who went to jail for not abiding by a judge’s order to issue same-sex marriage licenses, said the pope invited her to a secret meeting at the Vatican’s embassy in Washington last Thursday. She told ABC News on Wednesday, “I put my hand out and he reached and he grabbed it, and I hugged him and he hugged me. And he said, ‘Thank you for your courage.’ ”

A Vatican spokesman confirmed the meeting took place, but did not elaborate on what occurred. Mathew D. Staver, Davis’s attorney, said the 15-minute visit was initiated by the Vatican.

The secret show of support for Davis, who has been celebrated by many conservatives for her willingness to defy the government for her religious beliefs, is another reminder that Francis, while relatively progressive in his public comments on many issues, remains wedded to church doctrine on opposition to gay marriage. That view, which he implicitly reiterated in his speech to Congress last week, puts him at odds with many Democrats, as does his opposition to abortion. At the same time, his calls for income redistribution and for action to combat climate change put him at odds with Republicans.

Francis was greeted with waves of goodwill from Americans of all stripes. Backing Davis publicly would have put him directly in the middle of one of the most polarizing issues in American politics.

Reaction to the meeting puts this polarization on full display. Progressive didn’t take kindly to news of it.

The fact that the meeting took place in secret and that news of it only emerged after the pope went back to Rome is also troubling to some.

Many conservatives, including GOP presidential candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, praised the get-together.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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