Pope Francis, Kim Davis – and the Primacy of Conscience

Strong feelings have been expressed in several quarters about Pope Francis’ meeting with Kim Davis.  I agree wholeheartedly that meeting was distinctly ill – advised, especially (as Francis DeBenardo points out, considering that he did not meet personally with any of the LGBT Catholics and Catholic groups that had hoped to meet with him).

It’s important though, to keep this in perspective.  At America magazine, James Martin SJ, who has a strong record of support for LGBT Catholics, directs us to some  points for reflection:, which I summarise here  (read the full post at America): 

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  1. Pope Francis meets with very many individuals on his travels. Meeting with someone does not necessarily imply support.
  2. These meetings can be arranged in many different ways – usually not directly by the pope himself.
  3. We don’t know how much he knew about her and the background, or even what form the meeting took (Was it a personal, private meeting, or was she just one, in a receiving line?)
  4. The actual words he said, “Be strong” are innocuous enough, taken out of context. We just don’t know how much context, Francis actually was aware of. We also don’t know anything of what he said, beyond her reports of the conversation. (Were there more critical words, that Davis edited out of her version?)
  5. Pay more attention to the Pope’s own words, which were given in the press interview on the flight home:

    And here the pope simply restated Christian theology: that is, everyone has the right to conscientious objection: “I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection,” said the pope. “But, yes, I can say conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right.”

  6. It’s ill advised to use a private visit with the pope to make political point.
  7. Despite what Ms. Davis said, a meeting with the pope does not “kind of validate everything.”

Some thoughts of my own:

I agree with much of the “America” comment – except to add that it is bitterly disappointing that he met with her, and not with any of the LGBT groups who requested meetings. Two further points to remember: who the pope gets to meet, is not always a matter of personal choice. It can be, but it can also be a matter of simply slotting in with requests from his advisors and hosts. In this case, my guess is that he was very badly advised. Also, it’s simply true that in Catholic teaching, personal conscience is paramount: that is what allows gay and lesbian Catholics to disagree fundamentally with Vatican sexual doctrines, and yet remain Catholics in good standing.. Any attempt by LGBT Catholics to dispute this basic principle would lead us into extremely tricky territory. However, no right is absolute, independent, and free of all obligations.

Inherent in the importance of conscience in the secular sphere, is that where the dictates of conscience conflict with obligations under the law, we have to take the consequences In early Church history, those who followed their conscience and did not accede to the state demands to worship Roman gods, are now honoured as martyrs. Nobody in fact is forcing Kim Davis to marry any gay couples in contravention of her conscience – but it she refuses, she must accept the consequences. One easy and honourable way for her to do that, would be to resign her post, and find another job.

Besides, her insistence that marrying a same – sex couple would be against her religious belief and accordance with biblical commands, rings hollow when she has never refused a licence to people previously married, and now divorced. Jesus was unequivocal in his opposition to divorce, and to adultery – but never said a single word against same – sex relationships.

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