Editor Emeritus - Ed Wilkinson

Let’s Not Confuse the Issue of Conscience

So, what to think about Kim Davis?

She’s the county clerk from Kentucky who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She served a few days in jail for refusal to do her job, was freed and then claimed to have had a private audience with Pope Francis during his visit to Washington, D.C. Her attorney said that the Holy Father told her to be strong – an apparent endorsement of her position.

A Vatican spokesman, after conferring with the pope, said the meeting was not an endorsement. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, issued a statement Oct. 2 saying the pope had met with “several dozen persons who had been invited by the nunciature to greet him” in Washington and that “such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the pope’s characteristic kindness and availability.”

Father Lombardi made a distinction between the brief greetings and more official meetings.

Davis told ABC News she met the pope Sept. 24 at the Vatican. “I put my hand out and he reached and he grabbed it, and I hugged him and he hugged me,” Davis told ABC News. “And he said, ‘Thank you for your courage.’”

What seems to have happened is this. A small group of people, including Mrs. Davis, was invited to meet the Holy Father at the nunciature. These are people who have been cleared by local church officials. Prior to the meeting, the pope probably had no knowledge at all as to who they were. These are courtesy greetings and photo ops for people who for one reason or another have curried favor with the Church.

In 1995, I had the privilege of greeting Pope John Paul II when he was in New York. I, and four other Catholic Press editors, was brought to the UN nuncio’s residence in Manhattan to meet the Holy Father before his Mass in Central Park.

I have a photo of myself giving a copy of The Tablet to the pope. I’ve never claimed that was an endorsement of The Tablet or of anything that I’ve ever done. It was a courtesy call and simply that – an honor for serving the Church.

The same for Mrs. Davis. She was accorded the opportunity to meet the pope for her stand on an issue that involves religious principle. The Holy Father may or may not have known who she was. But he has been clear on the subject.

Although Davis’ name was not used, Pope Francis was asked about her case during his news conference Sept. 27 on the flight back to Rome.

“I cannot know all of the cases of conscientious objection that exist,” he said. “But yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is part of human rights. If a person is not allowed to exercise conscientious objection, he is denied a right.”

That should be the end of this story. But reporters and commentators have used the ambivalence of the papal meeting to either support or criticize Mrs. Davis, according to their position on same-sex marriage.

Most media people claim that Mrs. Davis misrepresented her meeting with the pope and have tried to discredit her moral conscientious objection on same-sex marriage.

We need to remember that Mrs. Davis was elected to a job and then the rules of the job were changed by the Supreme Court. She had every reason to object on the grounds that she has a moral conflict with what she is being told to do.

The government should have made some accommodation for Mrs. Davis when the ground rules were changed. She should never have been put in jail. The government’s aggressive behavior toward a person acting on her moral belief is one more slippery slide down that slope of anti-religious government policy that we have been witnessing for years. Mrs. Davis had the right to do what she did. She should never have been punished for standing by her belief.

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2 thoughts on “Let’s Not Confuse the Issue of Conscience

  1. Licensing officials who are animal rights supporters and consequently object to issuing hunting licenses receive accommodation. They can issue other kinds of licenses. Surely, we can do the same to someone who believes in “marriage” as that term was understood when the US Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment were enacted. Particularly, as the Tenth Amendment says that all power not delegated to the national government is reserved to the states and the people.