Sorry for the hiatus. Sometimes life just gets out of control and needs time and focus to bring it back. Sure you understand.
We were looking at Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and I was only going to do one more entry on that topic—focusing on the papal liturgies in New York and Philadelphia—and move on, but then came the news about the Pope’s meeting with Kentucky refusnik, Kim Davis, the county clerk who gained a certain notoriety for refusing to issue any marriage licenses in her county rather than violate her conscience and issue licenses to same-sex couples. Both Davis advocates and opponents took what they wanted from the papal meeting and in the end it’s ambiguity only puts a drag-sail on the high-flying mania Francis generated among Americans of every political, philosophical, and religious category.
Of course, during the actual span of the Pope’s visit, there was no word from either Ms. Davis or the Holy See about this visit and it was only after the Pope was back in the Vatican that Ms. Davis’ legal team announced the visit and spoke of the Holy Father’s “encouragement” of Ms. Davis and her “cause.” Ms. Davis is represented by Liberty Counsel which is affiliated with Liberty University Law School, part of the conservative Christian empire established by the late Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg VA. Liberty Counsel is known for advancing an anti-homosexual agenda, considering laws that target “hate crimes” to undermine the civil liberties of Americans to “follow their conscience.” In other words, Liberty Counsel is anxious to protect our supposed rights to exercise our various prejudices as long as our intolerance is an expression of our (Christian) faith. (Whaaaat? Which Gospel are we looking at here?) The Southern Poverty Law Center only this week—and in part because of the manner in which it is handling the Kim Davis case—labeled Liberty Counsel a “hate group,” describing it as “Liberty Counsel is a legal organization advocating for anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of religious liberty”. Ms. Davis’ advocates have claimed that the invitation to meet the Pope came from the Holy See, notably the Papal Nuncio, and petitions are circulating for the removal of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vignano from his diplomatic post for “interfering” with a domestic political case. However, sources in the Vatican Secretariat of State claim that while the invitation came from the Holy See, it came at the initiation (through third party channels) of Ms. Davis defense team. In other words, Ms Davis and/or her legal team initiated the request for her to meet the Pope so that the opportunity could be used as an endorsement of her position in refusing to issue marriage licenses rather than issue licenses that would be used for same-sex marriages. Supposedly the Holy See was furious that the meeting—which all had agreed would be confidential—was leaked to the press and felt that the Davis meeting undermined the Holy Father’s broader message of acceptance and inclusion to all people regardless of particularities in their lives. The Pope, in the same gathering, had met and embraced a former student who presented his same-sex partner to the Holy Father.
So what do we make of it?
Well, there were any number of gaffes in the papal visit and while this is a bit more head-liner material than some others, it really doesn’t—I think—merit much attention. The Pope met with all sorts of people during his visit. He seemed to cover the bases well there. Furthermore, while he might not have been well briefed on the complexities of the Davis case, there is a certain argument to be made for “conscientious objectors.” People need to have the right to be faithful to their moral or religious values without being penalized for it. Of course, conscientious objectors don’t serve in the army precisely because their religious beliefs would bar them from performing their military duties. In the same way, if a county clerk is unable to perform the duties and responsibilities of his or her office for religious or moral reasons, they need to resign from that position rather than refuse required and legitimate service to the citizenry. You really can’t have an entire county where it is impossible to obtain a marriage license. Francis made good use of his talk at the White House to stand for authentic Religious Liberty. It is a pity that Ms. Davis’ legal defense team wanted to push the boundaries of that principle to defend the indefensible. It was a bit of cheap theatre to engineer a meeting with the Pope to give their cause some credibility. In the end, however, Francis will be able to brush it off as a lesson to be learned in American legal slickness and Kim Davis continues to look more and more the desperate and angry shrew.