Yes, Pope Had a Private Meeting — With a Gay Couple
Yayo Grassi (left) watches as his partner Iwan hugs Pope Francis
The Vatican denies any private meeting with Kim Davis, but CNN reports that Pope Francis personally invited his former student, an out gay man, to the embassy.
By Sunnivie Brydum
October 02 2015 1:00 PM EDT
One day before he met antigay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, Pope Francis had a private meeting at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C. with a gay man and his partner, who the pontiff knew from Argentina, CNN reports.
Yayo Grassi, who has been with his partner, Iwan, for nearly 20 years, told CNN that Pope Francis personally arranged the meeting, and welcomed both men warmly with hugs at the Vatican Embassy in D.C. September 23.
"Three weeks before the trip, he called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug," Grassi, a caterer who lives in D.C., told CNN.
Grassi has long maintained a correspondence with Pope Francis, who originally served as Grassi's high school literature and psychology teacher when he was Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, according to National Geographic.
After Bergoglio came out against Argentina's marriage equality efforts in 2010, Grassi struck up an email correspondence with the future pope, expressing his disappointment that his former mentor was taking a stance so personally hurtful to Grassi.
While American LGBT Catholics were disappointed that Pope Francis declined repeated invites to meet with the disenfranchised faithful, the news that the pope did hold an audience with a same-sex couple comes as a surprise, especially in the wake of outrage following Davis's claims that she had a private audience with the pope, where he affirmed her ongoing religious-based refusal to issue marriage licenses.
The Vatican this morning disputed Davis and her attorney's claims that she had a private audience with the pope, saying instead that she was among dozens of people who greeted Pope Francis in a receiving line as he departed Washington.
"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," said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi in a statement. "The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature [Vatican embassy] was with one of his former students and his family."
"That was me," Grassi told CNN.
Grassi's partner posted video of the couple's papal encounter on Facebook; watch that below.
New Ways Ministry, a group advocating for LGBT equality within the church, issued a statement praising the pope for meeting with the couple but said he needs to do more.
"While I am glad to hear the story of the Yayo Grassi meeting, I still wish that Pope Francis would be more forthcoming about his personal experiences and relationships with LGBT people," said executive director Francis DeBernardo. "That kind of openness would set a great example for bishops and other church leaders who cringe at the thought of any association with LGBT people or issues.
"And while it is wonderful to hear of Pope Francis' personal admiration for this gay couple, it would be much more effective if he would set up formal dialogues with LGBT Catholics to discuss church teaching, policy, and pastoral practice. As I stated two days ago, the time for vagueness, ambiguity, and secret meetings is over."
The Vatican also should have "responded more quickly and efficiently" to reports of the pope's meeting with Kim Davis, DeBernardo said, as whenever the pontiff makes a progressive-sounding comment, church officials have swiftly countered that interpretation.
"Moreover, had the Vatican been more forthcoming about the context of the Grassi meeting, they would have immediately gained much respect and admiration from the LGBT community," he continued.
"I hope that both Pope Francis and the Vatican have learned some lessons from these experiences about communication and symbolism," DeBernardo concluded. "The main lesson that I hope they take away from these incidents is that many people are confused as to where Pope Francis stands on LGBT issues If Pope Francis would clarify where he stands on some of the vague messages he has made with regard to LGBT issues, this whole media storm could have been avoided."
# # #
Vatican Says Kim Davis 'Exploited' the Pope
The Vatican is pushing back about Kim Davis's meeting with the pope, saying he was 'blindsided' and 'exploited.'
By Bil Browning
October 02 2015 10:26 AM EDT Updated October 02 2015 2:29 PM EDT
Papal spokesman Federico Lombardi is disputing Liberty Counsel's version of the meeting between renegade antigay county clerk Kim Davis and the pope, saying people shouldn't read too much into it.
After Davis recounted the experience to ABC News and her attorney, Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver, claimed the pope told the defiant antigay clerk to "stay strong," the Vatican now says Pope Francis did not talk about Davis's defiance of federal law in denying same-sex couples marriage licenses. In fact, the Vatican claims that Davis's audience with the pope wasn't even a private meeting, as she and Staver have repeatedly claimed.
“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,” Lombardi said in a prepared statement this morning. “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.”
An unidentified Vatican official told Reuters the Holy See had a "sense of regret" that Pope Francis had any face time at all with the antigay clerk. Lombardi's assistant, Canada's Father Tom Rosica, told Reuters that the Vatican underestimated the significance of a papal audience with Davis, who has become the leading symbol of religious-based opposition to civil marriage equality in the U.S. He also rejected Davis's claim that the pope spent 15 minutes speaking with Davis and her fourth husband, Joe. "There simply was not enough time" during the pope's six-day tour of the country, he said.
"I'm not sure that [the embassy] realized how significant it would be," Rosica told Reuters. "The visit was extraordinary ... so to allow this to kind of overshadow it would be very unfortunate. This is not the centerpiece of the papal visit. This is one small part of it, but it is a loaded centerpiece."
According to Chicago's WBBM TV, Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich also denied the meeting was requested, and a source inside the Vatican told the television station the pope was "blindsided." According Vatican officials, Davis met the pope as part of a receiving line of "dozens" of people, although Davis's attorney disputes that claim.
Staver, who leads the right-wing Liberty Counsel, a certified anti-LGBT hate group, told the Associated Press that Davis was invited by the papal ambassador and was picked up at her hotel by a car dispatched by the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C. Staver said Vatican officials asked Davis to change her hairstyle for the trip so she wouldn't be recognized, and stood by his claim that the meeting was private and not part of a receiving line.
After Pope Francis departed, Liberty Counsel announced that the pontiff had met with the antigay clerk, explaining that the meeting was kept secret until the pope left the United States because the group "didn’t want the pope’s visit to be focused on Kim Davis.” He contends that the Davises sneaked into the Vatican embassy for a 15-minute meeting with the Holy Father, wherein Pope Francis gave the Apostolic Pentecostal Christian Davis a pair of rosary beads he personally blessed, which she then gave to her Catholic parents.
An adviser to Pope Francis has claimed on Twitter that the pontiff was "exploited" by Davis and her attorneys, calling it a “meeting that never should have taken place.”
This wouldn't be the first time Liberty Counsel has been caught in a fabrication about international support for Davis. Earlier this week, leaders in the right-wing group were forced to admit that a photo they claimed showed 100,000 people praying for Davis in Peru was a fake after ThinkProgress blogger Zack Ford exposed the fraud. The photo was actually taken in May 2014 at a multi-day religious event. Staver now admits that no prayer rallies were held specifically for Davis as he previously claimed, saying some people prayed for her instead.
# # #