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Vatican Responds To 'Clarify' Pope's Meeting With Kentucky Clerk


And let's turn now to the ongoing uproar over an unpublicized meeting last week in Washington, D.C. between Pope Francis and a controversial Kentucky county clerk. Kim Davis was briefly jailed last month for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It was Davis who earlier this week revealed her encounter with Francis. She said the pope praised her courage and offered his support. The Vatican had refused to say what happened in the meeting until this morning. We've got NPR's Sylvia Poggioli on the line from Rome. And she's just left a briefing by the Vatican press office. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: And what did the Vatican have to say?

POGGIOLI: Well, the first statement two days ago was neither denial nor confirmation. A second terse statement said simply the meeting could not be denied, which was an oblique confirmation that it did take place but no other comments. Then today, with all the media frenzy over the case, a new statement, which said that before leaving Washington, Pope Francis had met several dozen persons who had been invited by the Vatican Embassy in Washington and that the pope did not enter into details of Kim Davis's situation. And this is the key point, that his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all its particular and complex aspects.

MONTAGNE: Remind us of some of the details then 'cause you're - what you seem to be saying is almost, like, she came in with a group.

POGGIOLI: That's what we're getting the impression - absolutely today. Now, the news was broken by a conservative Catholic magazine after the pope had left, had already arrived in Rome. And them Kim Davis herself gave a TV interview where she gave the impression that it was a 15 minute long tete-a-tete between her and the pope. And from what we heard today from Father Thomas Rosica, who often acts as the English language briefer at the Vatican, the pope actually had met several dozen other people, donors, benefactors as well as Kim Davis. And they wanted just to greet him. And he apparently spent 15 minutes with all of them. Now, before we knew of this meeting, the pope had held a press conference on the flight back to Rome. And he was asked generically what he thought about government officials who refuse to grant same-sex marriage licenses. The pope's answer was firm, but it was generic. He said conscientious objection is a human right. Today, I asked Father Rosica if he thought the pope knew the question was a reference to Davis. And the father Rosica said he did not think the pope connected the question with the woman he had met briefly at the nunciature several days earlier.

MONTAGNE: Yesterday on this program, we heard from the head of Dignity USA. That's an LGBT Catholic advocacy group. She said that Francis's meeting with Davis called into question the pope's sincerity when he presents a more welcoming image of the church. Others have made that criticism just based on this meeting. Would this briefing at the Vatican change that?

POGGIOLI: Well, today the Vatican realized that the meeting had been handled very badly and that the pope - the impression was that the pope had met secretively - that's how the Davis camp had presented it - with such a controversial figure. Now, Father Rosica said he spoke with the Vatican spokesman, Lombardi, at length yesterday. He explained quite clearly, as an American, what kind of a media frenzy this was. And Lombardi met with the pope this morning. And after that, they decided to issue this latest statement. We asked Rosica if he thought the Davis camp had exploited the meeting. And he replied, one could say that, adding that the whole affair could be misinterpreted and manipulated, and it risked overshadowing the very successful papal visit.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli speaking to us from Rome. Thanks very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.