The Vatican has clarified that despite the much-publicized private meeting between Pope Francis and Kentucky clerk Kim Davis last week in Washington, D.C., the meeting should not be equated to the pontiff giving his support for Davis' position on refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
"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," wrote Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the head of the Holy See Press Office, in a statement released by the Vatican on Friday.
Lombardi added that Davis was only one of several dozen people the pope privately met during his week in the U.S., and it would be incorrect to read too much into the brief encounters.
"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," the spokesman said.
"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."
Davis spent six days in jail earlier in September for refusing to sign same-sex marriage licenses, explaining that her opposition comes from her religious belief that marriage is a union solely between one man and one woman.
Her case has sparked an ongoing religious freedom vs. equality under the law debate in America.
Mat Staver, attorney and founder of the Liberty Counsel, revealed to CBS News on Tuesday night that Francis had met with Davis on Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Vatican Embassy in Washington.
"Staver said Pope Francis spoke to Davis in English and asked her to pray for him. He said Davis, in return, asked the pope to pray for her. The pope told her to stay strong, according to her lawyer," CBS reported.
"Staver said the pope also gave Kim and her husband rosaries he had blessed."
Davis herself later added that the Roman Catholic Church leader thanked her for her courage and told her to stay strong.
Francis was also asked about Davis on his flight back to Rome on Monday. He admitted that he did not know the details behind the case, but argued that "conscientious objection" is a "human right, and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right." Thus, Davis should be allowed to follow her conscience.
Some Evangelicals, such as GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, praised Francis for meeting with Davis.
"The media mocked and derided millions of Americans who supported Kim's constitutional right to religious liberty," Huckabee wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.
"It may just be a visit from the pope that pushes the out of touch political class in Washington to finally stand up to judicial tyranny and for religious liberty."
Others, such as Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and executive editor of The Christian Post, suggested, however, that Francis should have made the meeting public.
"Why meet secretly? Imagine the impact if that visit had been publicized while he was still in the spotlight in America," Land wrote in a Thursday editorial for CP.
He recalled Mother Teresa's visit to America in 1994, where she advocated for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death, speaking out against abortion before former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Hillary Clinton at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
"What a historic tragedy that Pope Francis did not seize his moment the way Mother Teresa did," Land added.