Pope Francis met privately in Washington last week with Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who defied a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a Vatican spokesman confirmed on Wednesday.
Ms. Davis, the clerk in Rowan County, has been at the center of a nationwide controversy over whether government employees and private businesses have a legal right to refuse to serve same-sex couples. She spent five days in jail for disobeying a federal court order to issue the licenses.
On Tuesday night, her lawyer, Mathew D. Staver, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Davis and her husband, Joe, were sneaked into the Vatican Embassy by car on Thursday afternoon. Francis gave her rosaries and told her to “stay strong,” the lawyer said. The couple met for about 15 minutes with the pope, who was accompanied by security guards, aides and photographers. Mr. Staver said he expected to receive photographs of the meeting from the Vatican soon.
On Wednesday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the meeting took place, but he declined to elaborate. “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add,” he said.
Ms. Davis described the meeting in an interview on Wednesday with ABC News.
“I put my hand out and he reached and he grabbed it, and I hugged him and he hugged me,” Ms. Davis said. “And he said, ‘Thank you for your courage.’ ”
“I was crying. I had tears coming out of my eyes,” she said. “I’m just a nobody, so it was really humbling to think he would want to meet or know me.”
Mr. Staver, her lawyer, said Vatican officials had been aware of Ms. Davis, and that the meeting had been arranged through them — not through bishops or the bishops’ conference in the United States. He would not identify the Vatican officials.
In his public addresses in the United States, the pope spoke in broad strokes about the importance of religious freedom. On the plane trip home, an American television reporter asked him about government officials who refused to perform their duties because of religious objections to same-sex marriage.
The pope said that he could not speak specifically about cases but that “conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right.”
“It is a right,” Francis said. “And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”
The pope did not mention Ms. Davis, but added: “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise, we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying, ‘This right, that has merit; this one does not.’ ”
While in Washington, Francis also made an unscheduled stop to see the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns that is suing the federal government over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.
Ms. Davis and her husband were in Washington anyway to receive an award from the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group, in recognition of her stand against same-sex marriage.
During Ms. Davis’s visit to the Vatican Embassy, “the pope came to her and held out his hand,” Mr. Staver said.
Ms. Davis asked the pope to pray for her, which he said he would, and then the pope asked Ms. Davis to pray for him, Mr. Staver said. They spoke in English, he said, and the pope gave the Davises two rosaries. Ms. Davis gave the rosaries to her mother and father, who are Catholics.
Many on the left are disappointed because they hoped that the Pope would be on our side. And he is, on many issues (climate change, for one). But as has been said so many times, this Pope (like all Popes really) does not fall into the left-right schism that we have in this country. So we just have to eat this one.