Pope Francis secretly met a Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and he gave her words of encouragement, her attorney said.
Mathew Staver, attorney and founder of the Liberty Counsel, told CBS News on Tuesday night that the pope met Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her husband at the Vatican Embassy in Washington last Thursday during his visit to the United States.
On Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi confirmed the meeting, but he declined to elaborate. “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add,” he said in a New York Times report.
Staver, whose client was jailed for five days in September for refusing to comply with a judge's order to issue the licenses in line with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, told CBS his team did not want to disclose the meeting until now to avoid interfering with the pope's broader message during his visit.
"Because we didn't want the pope's visit to be overshadowed with Kim Davis," Staver said in an interview on the network. During the meeting, the pope told Davis to "stay strong," Staver said.
"It was really very humbling to even think that he would want to, you know, meet me or know me," Davis told ABC. "I put my hand out, and he grabbed it, and I hugged him, and he hugged me and he said, 'Thank you for your courage.'"
Conservative Christians, including some Republican presidential candidates, have said Davis is standing up for religious freedom, but the American Civil Liberties Union, which went to court to ensure same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses in Rowan County, has argued she has a responsibility as an official to issue the licenses.
The ACLU asked the court to require Davis to stop making alterations to the licenses, such as removing any reference to the Rowan County clerk's office.