Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who went to jail for six days rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, met privately with Pope Francis while he was in Washington last week, her lawyer said on Wednesday.
Mat Staver of the organization Liberty Counsel, which has represented Davis in her legal battle, provided an account of the meeting between Davis and the pope, saying that it lasted for less than 15 minutes on Thursday and took place at the Vatican embassy on Massachusetts Avenue NW, sometime between 1:15 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Staver said Davis, an Apostolic Christian, and her husband, Joe Davis, met privately with the pope, and that Francis spoke with them in English. The pope’s security personnel and photographer were present, but neither Staver nor anyone else accompanied the Davises into the session.
“He asked Kim Davis to pray for him. He held out his hand and she clasped his hands and held them,” Staver said. “She said she would [pray for him]. She asked the pope to pray for her, and he said he would pray. He said to ‘stay strong.’ ”
The Vatican took photos of the meeting, Staver said, but he does not know when he will get copies. He said neither Kim Davis nor Joe Davis took photos of the meeting.
The couple was presented with two rosaries: One was black in a red gift box, and one was white and in a white gift box. Kim Davis gave the rosaries to her parents, who are lifelong Catholics.
“Her father said, if he lives to be 200 years old, this will be the best gift he’s ever received,” Staver said. “She never thought in her life, as devout Catholics never think in their life, that she would meet with the pope.”
Staver noted that although Davis is not Catholic, she was struck by their meeting.
“When she met with the pope, it was obvious to her that he was a person who loved Jesus. It didn’t matter to her differences in denomination,” Staver said. “It was obvious he had care for her and he loves Jesus.”
Staver declined to say how the meeting took place or whose idea it was, or whether any U.S. bishops were involved.
“Any meeting with the pope, whether the Vatican initiates it or bishops initiate it, at the end of the day, it’s the pope’s decision,” he said. “I would not have imagined a meeting taking place, so it wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t on my radar, a possibility that she would be able to have an opportunity to meet with the pope.”
Staver and the Davises kept the meeting secret for several days so that the information wouldn’t detract from the pope’s six-day U.S. trip, he said.
“We didn’t want to run ahead of anything the pope was doing,” Staver said. “He had a pre-planned visit to the United States. Many of those were broad-brushed messages. We didn’t want the focus on Kim Davis. That was her desire. We waited until he was back in Rome before we released the information.”
He declined to say what vehicle Kim Davis rode to the Vatican embassy, denying reports that she was in a black SUV. Davis normally wears her long hair down, but she put her hair up for the meeting, he said.
Davis was already scheduled to be in Washington at the Values Voters Summit, a gathering of conservatives, when she became aware that she might get an audience with the pope, Staver said. He said he and Davis were planning to arrive Thursday afternoon, but rearranged their schedules to arrive Wednesday night so that the meeting could happen. The meeting was confirmed Wednesday night and reconfirmed Thursday morning, with additional details.
“She said for her it was an overwhelming experience,” Staver said. “She never thought she would be able to visit the pope. She said it was apparent early on that he was a kind, gentle and very caring person.”
Staver said he does not know why the Vatican is declining to comment about the meeting, saying, “We’re not pressing them for anything of that nature.” He noted that when initial reports of the meeting surfaced, some people said they doubted that it took place.
“Why in the world would Kim Davis or we invent a story like this, with so much detail about what transpired, when it could be instantly disproved? That makes no sense,” Staver said. “Kim Davis would be risking her entire future and career by making specific statements. The fact is, you don’t get a rosary with the Vatican symbol on it every day. You certainly don’t make up a story like this. If someone wanted media attention, you would not make up a fictitious event.”
Staver said he was with Davis before and after the meeting.
Staver noted Francis’s statements on religious freedom several times, citing comments that the pontiff made on the plane ride home to Rome.
“When you look back, those statements fit his actions. He specifically mentioned that you should have religious freedom even if it’s a government official required to issue marriage licenses,” Staver said.