Oh? Which one of Davis’s views does Francis not necessarily endorse? It’s clear enough that he opposes gay marriage, however delicately he might frame that opposition. Given what he said to reporters during his flight home from the U.S., it’s also clear that he believes even government officials (“every juridical structure”) should have the right of conscientious objection. Those are the key elements of Davis’s views.

What the Vatican’s saying, I guess, is that you should never infer from the Pope’s willingness to meet with Person X that he and Person X are politically simpatico. He meets a lot of people, after all. Fair enough, but that’s hard to swallow in a case where (a) Person X happens to be at the center of a national media firestorm and the Catholic official who arranged the meeting obviously knew it and (b) Francis’s own pronouncements on SSM and religious liberty squarely align with those of Person X. If the point of the meeting wasn’t to give Davis strength in defending her position, a de facto endorsement (the Pope told her explicitly to “stay strong” according to Davis herself), then why was she special enough to warrant a meeting to begin with?

Here’s the official statement from a Vatican spokesman:

The brief meeting between Mrs. Kim Davis and Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC has continued to provoke comments and discussion. In order to contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired I am able to clarify the following points:

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. 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.

The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.

Hard to read that as anything but a plea to Francis’s liberal fans in the United States not to write him off because he showed a few moments of kindness to That Woman. But even that bit of distancing might not be enough to secure absolution, which is why some Catholic powers-that-be are now whispering that Francis essentially didn’t even know who he was meeting:

It is a meeting some charge was orchestrated by the man who lived [at the Vatican embassy in Washington], the Pope’s representative here, Carlo Maria Vigano…

A close advisor to Pope Francis tweeted that the Pope was, in his words, “exploited” by those who set up what the CBS 2 source says was a “meeting that never should have taken place.”

Some call it an attempt by highly placed church leaders in the U.S. to diminish the impact of the Pope’s visit.

Vigano tried to sabotage the Pope’s visit by arranging a hot-button meeting with Davis? In that case, how come he or an ally didn’t leak news of the meeting, which emerged only when Davis and her lawyers started talking about after it the Pope had left? More here on the “manipulation” theory:

“I was very disappointed to see the pope having been used that way, and that his willingness to be friendly to someone was turned against him,” Father [James] Martin wrote. “What may originally have prevented them from issuing a statement was the desire not to give this story too much air. But what they eventually came to realize was that they needed to correct some gross misrepresentations of what had happened. It shows that Pope Francis met with many people on the trip, and that she was simply another person who he tried to be kind to.”

Father Rosica’s statement seemed to square with that account.

Asked on Friday if the Vatican press office had been unaware that Ms. Davis had met the pope, Father Rosica said: “No, but I think we may not have been aware of the full impact of the meeting. It is very difficult sometimes when you are looking at things in America from here.”

In other words, maybe an aide whispered the basic details of Davis’s case to Francis five minutes before they met — county clerk, devout Christian, insists her duty to God prevents her from issuing licenses to gay couples — without stressing that her refusal is a monster news story in the United States that could have conceivably devoured coverage of his other priorities during his tour if word of the meeting had gotten out while he was here. Again, though — that doesn’t mean Francis doesn’t endorse her position. All it means is that whoever arranged the meeting didn’t want him to take the sort of media heat for it that she’s been taking for weeks. Which makes you wonder how seriously Vigano or his other aides took his encouragement to Davis to “stay strong” in defense of her position.

Look on the bright side, though: The fact that even the Pope has had to inch away from a symbolic statement of opposition to gay marriage proves that he really did get a taste of modern America during his trip. Gay businessmen, Democratic presidential candidates, even Caitlyn Jenner — anyone otherwise admired by the left who’s expressed a preference for traditional relationships must seek contrition eventually to return to a state of liberal grace. All the Vatican’s doing here is a bit of penance.

Update: Does this count as “staying strong”?

One Vatican official said there was “a sense of regret” that the pope had ever seen Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who went to jail in September for refusing to honor a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and issue same-sex marriage licenses.