Kim Davis

Pope set-up says plenty about rifts in Church

  • October 8, 2015

Francis caught up in smear job by social ideologues

Pope Francis’ meeting with Kim Davis, the controversial Kentucky county clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, says more about an ideological schism within the Church than it does about U.S. politics.

It’s not surprising that four-times married Davis and her right-wing social ideologues would connive a way to use the Pope to further their aims, and even twist the truth to pack a stronger media punch.

But what is truly surprising is that someone, or some cabal, within the Church hierarchy would work with Davis to embarrass the Pope in this way.

Quick recap: Davis briefly met the Pope in Washington at the Vatican’s embassy on Sept. 24. When Francis left the United States, Davis and her allies grabbed the media spotlight by suggesting the “private meeting” was an endorsement from the Pope. It was neither private nor an endorsement. It was a smear job against the Pope.

After several days of untruths, the Vatican responded by unequivocally stating the Pope did not grant her a private audience or endorse her political views. The Vatican also said that, at the time, Francis didn’t know or recognize Davis, a political lightning rod in the U.S.

“Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City,” said Fr. Federico Lombardi, the head of the Holy See Press Office. “Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the Pope at the nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.”

And talk about irony: the only real private audience granted by the Pope that day was with a friend who is openly gay. Francis met with Yayo Grassi, 67, Grassi’s partner of 17 years and a few others before he met Davis. Some 50 years ago, when he was a young priest, Francis taught Grassi at a school in A r g e n t i n a . Grassi came to the U.S. in 1978 during the dark days of that country’s dictatorship. He and Francis have remained friends.

The man believed to be responsible for creating this papal embarrassment is Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., since it was his office that invited Davis to the embassy.

Viganò, 74, is considered to be right-wing in his political and social leanings. But somehow I find it difficult to believe he acted in this rogue manner to embarrass the Holy Father. For one thing, Viganò is highly educated and reportedly intelligent so how could he not know the finger of blame would fall upon him? Secondly, he ended up in the U.S. in 2011 after losing a high-altitude political battle in the Vatican’s Curia as part of the so-called VatiLeaks scandal. Could this be Viganò’s rivals putting the proverbial nail in the coffin of his tenure with the Church?

At the time of this writing, it’s too early to know. Massimo Faggioli, Professor of History of Christianity, University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, however, says the infighting in the Church must stop.

“The alarming thing — for those who live the Church and know its social and institutional fabric — is the cynical and unscrupulous attempt to exploit the person of the Pope in order to score a point in favour of the ideological opponents of the Pope. It’s not surprising Kim Davis and her lawyers do that but very disturbing that Church members do it as well, especially members ordained to the priesthood and active in the corridors of ecclesiastical power,” Faggioli wrote in the Huffington Post.

Perhaps, after investigation, all the blame will fall upon Viganò and he will be asked to live out his days in relative anonymity in his Northern Italian home. He is three months shy of the mandatory retirement age for bishops. It seems pretty clear that some of the blame has to fall upon him. As head of the embassy he should have known Davis was coming and that her presence could ensnare the Pope in U.S. cultural wars, something Francis made clear he wanted no part of when he embarked on the American tour. Indeed, Francis was very careful to structure his trip and his speeches in such a way to not be politicized by any particular faction.

“The Pope has to be able to rely on his own system, and in this case the system failed him,” Faggioli told The New York Times. “The question is, was it a mistake, or was it done with full knowledge of how toxic she was?”

One thing is quite apparent: Judging by his track record over the last 30 months as pontiff, Francis will not act in a rash or vindictive manner to simply settle scores.

(Brehl can be reached at bob@ or @bbrehl on Twitter.)

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