Friday, October 2, 2015

Papal Meeting with Kim Davis: Vatican Doing Damage Control, But Unanswered Questions Galore Remain

So the hugely damaging fallout from the pope's meeting with Kim Davis has now provoked an unusual response-retraction of sorts from the Vatican media spokesperson Father Lombardi, who says that the pope is a characteristically kind and available man who meets with all sorts of persons (and isn't that nice, but isn't it interesting that his kindness and availibilty didn't extend to a meeting with a single LGBT Catholic among many who asked to see him on his U.S. visit?)* Father Lombardi's brief account of the meeting makes it appear that Kim Davis was "one of several dozen persons" who simply happened to be bustled in front of the pope as he made preparations to leave D.C.

And it does further damage control by stating that the brief meeting with Ms. Davis (and her husband and Mat Staver) does not constitute endorsement of her understanding of religious freedom — though it's rather difficult to put that disclaimer together with the pope's words about religious freedom on the plane back to Rome, which seemed precisely to be endorsing her version of religious freedom without naming her.

Here's what I think as one of the tiny peons far removed from Vatican politics or the heady universe of the heterosexual old boys (of both genders, in some cases) who spin the pope for the rest of us in the Catholic media, along with his clerical spinmeisters: I think the Vatican is in damage-control mode after news of the meeting with the Davises and Mat Staver of the anti-gay hate group Liberty Counsel was leaked. And it now intends to throw the Davises and Mr. Staver to the wolves, without really telling us the full story of what happened. 

The statement by Lombardi that this meeting does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of everything that Kim Davis stands for, and the attempt to represent the meeting as the brief encounter of a kind, avuncular pope with a bunch of people he hardly knew, may be the closest we'll ever get to the "truth" of what happened here.

Unanswered questions that remain and beg for answers:

1. As David Gibson noted when he broke the news of the papal meeting with Kim Davis at Religion News Service two days ago, Ms. Davis's handler Mr. Staver informed CBS News "that the Vatican contacted him a few days before the pope was to arrive on his historic visit, his first to the U.S., because Francis had been following Davis' saga 'and obviously is very concerned about religious freedom not just in the United States but worldwide.' "

The Lombardi account tacitly challenges the veracity of Mr. Staver's account of what happened. As I myself noted when the news of the meeting broke, in the days before this news broke, Mr. Staver was found to have been involved in a skirmish with the truth as he and others shopped around a story of a recent huge prayer rally in Peru in support of Ms. Davis that did not take place. 

The discrepancy between what Mr. Staver has reported and Ms. Davis's own reports that she met privately with the pope, who encouraged her to be strong, and what Father Lombardi is reporting here, is so wide that it demands a clear, factual explanation from the Vatican — which will almost certainly not be forthcoming, I predict.

Was Mr. Staver simply lying when he claimed that the pope knew in advance who Ms. Davis was, that she and Mr. Staver had been in touch with the Vatican prior to the papal visit, and that the pope wanted a meeting with Kim Davis?

2. According to Laurie Goodstein and Jim Yardley in the New York Times, careful arrangements were made as the Davises and Staver communicated with Vatican officials about the meeting in advance of the papal visit, a private meeting lasting about 15 minutes took place after Ms. Davis was brought in to see the pope with her distinctive long hair hidden under a wrap, and a Vatican photographer was present — the implication of the account is that a Vatican photographer was present at the meeting and took photos

Were photos taken or were they not? If they were taken, why were they taken — in what we're now being told was decidedly not a private audience with the pope?

Will the Vatican please elaborate?

3. An attempt is being made to pin the blame for this bungled meeting and the very bad decision it reflects solely on the papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Again, I am a very tiny peon far from the halls of power in which the big boys rock and roll, but I have observed from afar that meetings like this — meetings with potentates religious or otherwise — seldom take place without communication chains involving more than one person.

The U.S. bishops want to disavow any responsibilty at all for Kim Davis. They want to deny any connection at all to her and what she represents. 

But their definition of religious freedom is precisely the one parroted by the pope on his airplane trip back to Rome when he was lobbed a question by a reporter that was widely understood to be a question about the Kim Davis story — though he did not address Kim Davis by name and appeared even to want to indicate that he did not know the particulars of her story as he answered the question from the reporter.

The unlimited, unnuanced religious-freedom-trumps-all definition of religious freedom that the U.S. bishops have consistently defended in their religious freedom crusade is the same definition of religious freedom the pope defended in his response to the reporter. Moreover, it's Kim Davis's definition of religious freedom.

Kim Davis is, in key respects, a creation of the Catholic hierarchy, though the bishops have done everything possible to pretend that they are in no shape, form, or fashion connected to the likes of her — and the Catholic media have colluded in this pretense. I wrote about this very topic (and here) a number of times in advance of the papal visit.

I am strongly of the conviction that the meeting of the pope with Kim Davis did not take place without the active cooperation of one or more U.S. Catholic bishops, who were working with the papal nuncio to set this meeting up. I have no proof of this, of course.

But I also doubt very seriously that this meeting would have taken place without the active assistance — without the promotion — of one or more U.S. bishops. I doubt it would have occurred solely due to the behest of the papal nuncio.

Will the Vatican please elaborate?

And while the elaborating is taking place, will the Vatican — which, as we all know, stands for kindness and availability, as the pope himself does — please explain why the kind and always available pope chose not  to meet with a single one of the many LGBT Catholics who asked to meet with him when he was in the U.S.?

But he did meet with Ms. Davis, her husband, and her attorney from the anti-gay hate group Liberty Counsel . . . .

Thanks, Vatican, for the explanations and clarifications. A lot of LGBT human who have been and continue to be very seriously damaged by your institution as you talk about love, mercy, justice, and kindness and availability will be eager to hear your further words about this mysterious meeting that has so damaged the pope's reputation that we now see you doing some rather rare damage control.  

*CNN is now reporting that the pope met a friend from Argentina who happens to be gay while he was in D.C.

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