The former nuncio to the US wrote Thursday his account of Pope Francis’ 2015 meeting with Kim Davis, a county clerk who had refused out of conscience to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Davis, a clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, served five days in jail for her refusal, in the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges.
The pope met Davis at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C., Sept. 24, 2015, during his visit to the US.
Davis’ lawyer told multiple media outlets of the encounter. According to the Liberty Counsel, Davis said that “Pope Francis was kind, genuinely caring, and very personable. He even asked me to pray for him. Pope Francis thanked me for my courage and told me to ‘stay strong’.”
When first asked about the meeting, then-head of the Holy See press office, Fr Federico Lombardi, said: “I don’t deny that the meeting may have taken place but I don’t have comments to add.”
Several days later, Oct. 2, 2015, Fr. Lombardi said Pope Francis met with Davis alongside several dozen others who had been invited by the nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City.
Such brief greetings “occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability,” he said, adding that the only specific audience granted by the Pope at the nunciature “was with one of his former students and his family.”
Fr. Lombardi stated that during Pope Francis’ meeting with Davis, the Pope “did not enter into the details” of her situation, and specified that the meeting with her “should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”
Fr. Thomas Rosica, an English-language assistant to Holy See Press Office, told journalists Oct. 2, 2015 that Pope Francis had not been fully briefed on Davis’ situation, or the impact such a meeting would have.
Archbishop Viganò, who was apostolic nuncio to the US at the time of Francis’ visit to the country, issued his Aug. 30 statement in response to an Aug. 28 article in the New York Times.
In that article, the clerical sex abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz recounted that in April, Francis told him: “I did not know who the woman [Davis] was and he [Msgr. Viganò] snuck her in to say hello to me — and of course they made a whole publicity out of it. And I was horrified and I fired that Nuncio.”
In his statement, published by LifeSiteNews Aug. 31, Archbishop Viganò stated that “Faced with the Pope’s reported statement, I feel obliged to recount the events as they really unfolded.”
The former nuncio said that on Sept. 23, 2015, he spoke with Pope Francis “to bring to his attention, and possible approval, a delicate and easily achievable initiative; that is, to meet personally and in a completely confidential way, out of the media spotlight, with Kim Davis.”
He says he gave the pope a brief memo summarizing Davis’ case, and that Francis “appeared in favor of such an initiative” but wanted Archbishop Viganò to speak with Cardinal Pietro Parolin about the political implications of such a meeting.
Archbishop Viganò said he went that evening, with two of his counselors, to the hotel where the Secretary of State was staying, and he was met by two of his deputies, Archbishop Angelo Becciu and Archbishop Paul Gallagher. Cardinal Parolin had already retired for the night.
“I gave them the same memo that I had given to the Pope, setting forth its content and explaining the reason for my visit, Archbishop Viganò wrote. “After considering the case, Archbishop Becciu was immediately in favor of the Pope receiving Davis privately before he left Washington for New York.”
He said Archbishop Gallagher was more cautious, but was reassured by a canonist of the nunciature that “there were no procedural obstacles,” and he then “gave an unconditionally favorable opinion that the Pope should receive Davis.”
According to Archbishop Viganò, the following morning he told the pope of the positive opinion of the officials from the Secretariat of State. “The Pope then gave his consent, and I organized to have Davis come to the Nunciature without anyone noticing, by having her sit in a separate room,” he said.
The former nuncio wrote that he told the L’Osservatore Romano photographer not to release photos of the meeting without his superior’s permission, and that his photos are kept in the paper’s photographic archive.
That afternoon, Archbishop Viganò recounted, Pope Francis “entered as planned into the sitting room where Davis and her husband were waiting for him. He embraced her affectionately, thanked her for her courage, and invited her to persevere. Davis was very moved and started crying. She was then taken back to her hotel in a car driven by a pontifical gendarme, accompanied by an American Monsignor and staff member of the Nunciature.”
The former nuncio said he was called by Cardinal Parolin in October 2015, after the news of the meeting had broke, who told him, “You must come immediately to Rome because the Pope is furious with you.”
Archbishop Viganò wrote that he met with the pope Oct. 9, 2015 for about an hour, during which he “did not mention even once the audience with Davis”, and praised the visit to the US and his reception there.
“As soon as my audience with the Pope was over, I immediately phoned Cardinal Parolin,” Archbishop Vigano wrote, “and said to him, ‘The Pope was so good with me. Not a word of reproach, only praise for the success of his visit to the USA.’ At which point Cardinal Parolin replied, ‘It’s not possible, because with me he was furious about you.’”
Archbishop Vigano wrote that regarding Cruz’ interview with the New York Times, “either Cruz or the Pope” lied about Francis’ understanding of his visit with Davis.
“What is certain is that the Pope knew very well who Davis was, and he and his close collaborators had approved the private audience,” the former nuncio stated. “Journalists can always check, by asking the prelates Becciu, Gallagher and Parolin, as well as the Pope himself.”
“It is clear, however, that Pope Francis wanted to conceal the private audience with the first American citizen condemned and imprisoned for conscientious objection.”