Davis, the elected clerk of Rowan County, initially refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples and then stopped issuing them to gay or straight couples, claiming that doing so would violate her Christian religious values after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples have a right to marry.
Davis told ABC News she met the pope Sept. 24 at the Vatican embassy in Washington. "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.’"
The clerk said a "church official" phoned and invited her to meet the pope.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, issued a statement late Sept. 30 saying, "I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no comments to add."
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," the pope told reporters.
As a follow-up, the reporter asked if that should apply to a government official, and the pope replied, "It is a human right. If the government functionary is a human person, he has that right."
During his stay in the United States Sept. 22-27, Pope Francis had other private meetings in the nunciature in Washington, the U.N. nunciature in New York and at the seminary in Philadelphia where he stayed. The Vatican announced several of those meetings, including the meetings in Philadelphia with survivors of sexual abuse and with a family of five that drove from Argentina to the World Meeting of Families in a 1980 Volkswagen bus.
Lawyer Mat Staver, who represents Davis, also confirmed the pope did meet Davis in Washington at the apostolic nunciature. He told Catholic News Service a phone interview Sept. 30 that he could not discuss details of how the meeting came about.
He said Davis was accompanied by her husband, Joe.
"I think the meeting is more important than how it came about," Staver told CNS in Washington in a telephone interview from the Orlando, Florida, office of the firm he founded, Liberty Counsel.
"I think the meeting was incredibly important, especially for Kim Davis, who never thought she’d do that in her life — meet the pope," Staver said. Davis is an evangelical "who came to Jesus about four-and-a-half years ago, and it transformed her life," he added.
Her parents are lifelong Catholics and she gave them the two rosaries the pope gave her — in cases with the Vatican seal. Staver said her father remarked he could live to be 200 years old and the rosary would be the most important gift he would ever receive.
Davis told Staver the pope was "kind and gentle and very caring," he said, and that when they met they clasped hands, and asked one another for prayers.
"He thanked her for her courage. He specifically said, ‘Stay strong,’" according to Staver. "They embraced."
"I can’t say what pope knew or didn’t know" about the Davis case, said Staver.
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Contributing to the story was Julie Asher in Washington.