Thoughts on Francis and Kim

Is there anyone with whom Pope Francis should absolutely, resolutely, categorically never meet? 

He is called by billions “Holy Father” and has preached incessantly about the love of the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son as a sign of the love God has for everyone. He is the successor of the fisherman to whom Christ entrusted all of His sheep and lambs. He has famously asked, “Who am I to judge?” referring to anyone who is of good will and seeking God. He has summoned everyone in the Church to a special mission to the marginalized and outcast, reminding us that Jesus Christ is interested in saving 100 out of 100. He has met with hardened criminals, shameful dictators, and notorious atheists. 

Is there anyone who should unequivocally be excluded from his Christ-like concern and paternal engagement? 

Of course there is! 

That’s the response that was heard in various segments of the American media and even some Catholic circles last week when word got out that Pope Francis had a brief encounter with Kim Davis at the Nunciature in Washington, D.C. 

To some, Kim Davis is a Hester Prynne with a scarlet letter so dark that even being in the same room with her would indelibly sully even the whitest cassock. Just to greet her — not to mention to thank her for her courage and urge her to “stay strong” — is equivalent to engaging in the diabolical and ipso facto undermines all one’s Christian witness and authority. Giving her a set of Rosary beads is enough to neutralize not only all Pope Francis said and did during his six days in the U.S. but during the first 30 months of his papacy. It’s enough to get some to leave the Church altogether. 

That’s what I heard last week when news broke that Pope Francis had met with the county clerk of Rowan County, Ky., who had been jailed for six days in September for contempt of court for refusing to issue Marriage licenses to same-sex couples in accordance with the Supreme Court’s recent Obergefell decision. This 5-4 judgment declared that Jesus Christ’s teaching on Marriage as the union of one man and one woman — not to mention the understanding of every culture in history, of the founding fathers and of the Supreme Court for its first 226 years — is wrong, prejudiced, and contrary to the U.S. Constitution. 

Once people heard about Francis and Kim, my phone started ringing, and my email box began to grow, from those who thought I would be an appropriate messenger to convey their indignation to the Holy Father. 

I tried to engage the people, first to understand their position and then to try to talk them off the Spiritual ledge. My inner Socrates came out in a series of questions. 

What is it that upsets you so much that Pope Francis would meet with her? Do you consider it imprudent or sinful? Why do you think he met her? Do you think that he somehow concurs with everything she has said and done any more than by meeting with Raul and Fidel Castro, President Obama and Speaker Boehner and he would support all they’ve said and done? Do you agree with Pope Francis that Marriage is a union between a man and a woman? Do you think it’s fitting for the pope to give a sign of support for someone willing to go to jail rather than violate her conscience? Is there any Christian teaching for which you would be willing to go to jail rather than violate your conscience? 

In my highly-educated but unscientific sample, the answers were similar. Meeting with Kim Davis was an unambiguous sign that, contrary to their hopes, Pope Francis sides with the “religious right,” who despite his “rhetoric” of support for gays and lesbians was really “bigoted” and opposed to their “fundamental human rights” and for that reason they were intending — most of them, late in life — to leave the Church. 

They were unwilling to consider that they might be reading too much into the situation or that there could be an alternative explanation. None was willing to state forthrightly whether he or she agreed with what Jesus Christ teaches about Marriage. While every interlocutor affirmed that no one should be compelled to violate one’s conscience, none was able to state a truth of the faith for which he or she would be willing to go to jail or be martyred

Several added, “Pope Francis should have stayed out of the culture wars!” So I asked, “Was he wrong, therefore, to have mentioned the death penalty before Congress or to speak about welcoming immigrants?” They said “no,” declaring that the culture wars concern exclusively the “sexual issues.” I reminded them that Pope Francis had spoken on his trip several times about defending the lives of the unborn, about Marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and in favor of the U.S. bishops’ defense of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. They said that in those circumstances the pope’s “tone” was different. I asked if they could describe for me what the pope’s tone was in his brief conversation with Kim Davis, and they changed the subject. 

I learned two things from these conversations that I think are important to ponder. 

The first is that, for some, Kim Davis is so toxic that the only moral response to her should be to treat her as a pariah. She is the bad apple who would spoil even the communion of saints, someone that Jesus Christ Himself wouldn’t dare draw near. Where did Christians learn how to reason and behave like this? Is it because many of us are getting our categories from antagonistic political talk shows and blogs than from the Gospel? As Christians we’re called by Jesus to love even those who have made themselves our enemies: from where does the loathing for Kim Davis originate? 

The second is about the supposed moral absolute that many insisted Pope Francis not violate during his journey: “Thou shalt not enter into the culture wars!” Some were outraged, others scandalized that Pope Francis, through his private meeting with Davis, immersed himself in “domestic political controversies” as if by doing so he was betraying God and his vocation. 

Is not this putative Commandment, however, equivalent to saying to the pope and the Church: “Don’t dare mention or show you take seriously any Church teaching that would make me or others uncomfortable, or that might force me into choosing between my faith and those political and cultural allegiances incompatible with my faith?” Is not the Gospel supposed to penetrate even into politics and culture, to everywhere people interact? From where does that separation of faith from life flow? 

Let me suggest an answer to those questions that came from how one of the conversations I had concluded. 

When a man said that he and the seven Catholics with whom he had eaten breakfast were all planning to leave the Church over Pope Francis’ meeting with Kim Davis, I asked whether he thought his decision would please Jesus or make Him weep. “He would definitely congratulate me,” the man confidently replied, “for doing what was right!” 

So I asked whether he believed in the existence of the devil. “Yes,” he replied just as forthrightly. So I inquired, “Do you think the devil will be upset if you stop practicing your Catholic faith or do you think he’ll rejoice that his many years of hard work have finally paid off?” 

The man paused and, with a tone that seemed somber and humble, said, “I don’t know.” 

I thanked him for his honesty and suggested that he ponder that question some more before he decides whether to let Kim Davis get him to divorce himself from the Vicar of Christ and the Sacramental life of the Church. 

That brings us to the biggest questions about Pope Francis and Kim Davis: 

Do you think Jesus is upset that His Vicar met with Kim Davis? 

And do you think the devil is upset with the reaction to it? 

Anchor columnist Father Landry can be contacted at fatherlandry@catholicpreaching.com.

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