A papal tryst
All the time that the pope was in Cuba and the US, I was short of sleep. Live telecasts of papal events had me glued to the television a few hours after midnight. When the event was over, it was usually an exercise in futility to recoup hours of lost sleep. I had no regrets, whatsoever. I shared in the excitement. I hung on his every word. And I crossed myself whenever he imparted his blessing. And so it is that I am enraged that he is receiving flak for having met with Kim Davis, the conscientious objector, in private. Cowardly, one post read. Duplicitous, screamed another. Now, really?
Kim Davis had refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples, despite the celebrated Obergefell judgment of the US Supreme Court. She was wrong in holding to office and defying a lawful order of court. I may take exception on moral grounds to the Supreme Court’s judgment; I may not share its many philosophical premises about which, I wish, it had been more critical and circumspect. But judgment was lawfully rendered, doctrine enunciated. Kim Davis was, however, objecting on the ground of conviction and while in office, her conscientious objection took the form of her refusal to issue licenses. Her position on marriage is also that of the Catholic Church. Without a doubt, she has suffered immensely because of her beliefs: from being slurred as a bigot to the threat of administrative and even penal sanction. This was good reason for Pope Francis to meet with her. When the church was persecuted, popes always considered it incumbent upon them to “confirm their brothers and sisters in the faith.” It was a tender, pastoral gesture for the pope to have received her in a private audience.
Was the pope lending his seal of approval to Davis’ stand on traditional marriage? But of course. Does anyone who has the least understanding of Catholic theology expect the Bishop of Rome, chief teacher of the Church, to concede, whether by word or deed, approval to the matrimonial union of persons of the same sex? Francis may be a reformer, but he is Catholic and I am not sure that he is eager to be a heretic!
So why the private meeting? Why no announcement? Why did it have to come to public attention only after the pope had returned to the Vatican? Any member of the clergy who has had to make pastoral decisions and has had to be prudent about them knows the answer: Had the pope met Kim Davis under the glare of camera lights, had the meeting been publicized, it could have so easily been taken as an endorsement of Davis’ defiance, and that would certainly be unwelcome, unwise, imprudent and downright wrong. But he met with her because she was going through a period of testing because of her convictions. It was a pastor’s heart, certainly not uncharacteristic of Francis, to assure her that she was not alone in her belief.
Does this not negate all that Pope Francis preached about inclusiveness? I really do not understand why it is that some people think it does, because it clearly does not. One can be respectful, kind, accepting and solicitous of people with whom one disagrees. One should be clear about one’s theological positions, but that is no reason to build a fence that keeps those who disagree from one’s circle of charity. That is what Pope Francis has consistently taught: Firmiter in re, suaviter in modo... firm about what one holds, but always respectful and caring towards all!