If for no other reason, this is welcome news for the entertaining cognitive dissonance it’s creating in lefties who’ve adopted the Pope as a moral authority. Michael Dougherty summarizes the liberal reaction:
As for the merits of the meeting itself, you tell me what it was supposed to achieve.
“The Pope spoke in English,” [Davis] told me. “There was no interpreter. ‘Thank you for your courage,’ Pope Francis said to me. I said, ‘Thank you, Holy Father.’ I had asked a monsignor earlier what was the proper way to greet the Pope, and whether it would be appropriate for me to embrace him, and I had been told it would be okay to hug him. So I hugged him, and he hugged me back. It was an extraordinary moment. ‘Stay strong,’ he said to me. Then he gave me a rosary as a gift, and he gave one also to my husband, Joe. I broke into tears. I was deeply moved…
Vatican sources have confirmed to me that this meeting did occur; the occurrence of this meeting is not in doubt.
Initially the Vatican would publicly neither confirm nor deny that the meeting happened, leaving Davis out on a limb, but a few hours ago the NYT got a spokesman to admit that she was telling the truth. Why did they hesitate before acknowledging that? How do we reconcile Francis’s (alleged) encouragement to her to “stay strong” with the Vatican’s own attempts to keep the meeting a secret, with Davis and her husband reportedly being “sneaked in” to the embassy in Washington according to the Times?
The obvious answer is that they didn’t want news of it to overwhelm the rest of Francis’s trip. He was here to preach “unity and reconciliation” and a photo op with a person at the center of the bitter left-right political dispute over gay rights and religious freedom would have undermined that. The media frenzy would have consumed coverage of the rest of his agenda on matters like immigration and climate change. In that case, though, why not officially release details of the meeting after the visit had ended? Alternately, why bother meeting with Davis at all? Francis seems to be trying to walk a line between encouraging the sort of conscientious objection by Christian public servants that Davis engaged in but not encouraging it too visibly lest his new friends on the left get annoyed that he really seems to believe that gay marriage is immoral. Where’s the “strength” in that? Davis was willing to go to jail for her beliefs; the Pope wouldn’t even let the press into his meeting with her to confirm that it happened. I think she was wrong to try to hold up business in the clerk’s office rather than resign, but at least she’s got the courage of her convictions.
As for the left, right now I think they’re rationalizing Francis’s moral traditionalism the same way they rationalized that of their other favorite religious figure, Barack Obama, in 2008: He may say he’s against gay marriage but surely a man as righteous as he is on so many other liberal priorities knows better. It’s institutional and political pressures that are compelling him to take the line he’s taken. They were right about O, but the fact that Francis made time for Davis makes it harder for them to believe the same about him. There’s the value of the meeting, I guess.
Here he is on the plane ride home, a much, much lower-profile setting, defending the right of conscientious objection in “every juridical structure.” Exit question: Does he want Catholic public officials to follow Davis’s example?