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I am deeply disappointed. Deeply. In fact, I want to be the Pope’s oldest sister (because that is the righteous sort of know-it-all voice I would like to use), corner him and say, “Dude! What were you thinking visiting Kim Davis!? I don’t care if you agree with her. I don’t care if she’s just another person you were ‘showing mercy’ to! I don’t care if you have a crush on her (do you have a crush on her, seriously?). I don’t care if you are the Pope and not a politician. It was a BAD MOVE!”
Maybe disappointed isn’t the word. I am pissed, enraged, and once again left with little hope for the institutional church to live out the gospel in the world. If we want Jesus’ teachings to make a difference in our broken world, let’s make sure to reclaim it from the Vatican and every other christian institutionalized strong hold, including Fox News.
But before I lose you in my rant against institutionalized christianity, let’s return to the Pope. I have been reading extensively about Francis since he became Pope, intrigued by his sharp mind, his particular brand of liberation theology, and his persistent care for the least. I actually cared this past week about his visit to the United States. I’ve never before cared about any Pope. Why should I? I am a feminist Protestant women. I don’t pay attention to Catholic patriarchy, but Francis seemed to transcend the limits of his religious institution, I thought.
That’s why when I learned he visited Kim Davis it hurt, I mean really hurt. If John Paul or Ratzinger visited, I wouldn’t have been so enraged. I never expected much from them. But Francis? I had high hopes.
Here are my list of grievances with the Pope’s brief visit with Ms. Davis:
1) Cheap Mercy: I have a dear Catholic feminist friend who is razor-sharp smart, deeply faithful, and committed to her tradition for life-giving reasons. Her thoughtful response to my emailed outrage focused on mercy (which Catholics use much like we Protestants use the word grace, even if not an exact translation). “Maybe he thought this pathetic woman needed mercy… Oh and just to be clear, I’m pissed that woman got in front of my Pope, but I don’t get to pick who the Pope shows mercy to.”
I admire and respect my friend’s perspective, but the Pope’s mercy in this particular situation seems cheap, like cheap grace. What do I mean? If the Pope’s primary mission was to show this woman mercy, did he call her to transformation? Did he call her to reconciliation with her LGBTQ brothers and sisters on whom she has inflicted deep pain? Reports from Kim Davis about her visit with the Pope don’t seem to indicate such a conversation. Just like grace and forgiveness, God’s mercy comes with an invitation. It is not cheap. In fact its price is transformation.
2) The Pope may not be a politician, but he still needs to be savvy: Some are making it very clear that the Pope doesn’t need to concern himself, like politicians, with what underlying message he might be sending by meeting Kim Davis, because, in fact, he is not a politician. I am grateful he is not a politician and has come out so strongly on issues like climate change without concerning himself if it will lose votes.
My smart Catholic friend also pointed this out to me, “Because the Pope isn’t a politician, no one is happy, no matter where they fall in the political spectrum.” Yet she continued her remarks with why the Pope still should still have been more assiduous about his visit, “The worst thing,” she wrote, “is that it’s overshadowing some of the key messages.”
There lies my point! He’s not a politician, but what he does still sends a loud and clear message. “That Pope Francis met privately in Washington, D.C., with Kim Davis throws a wet blanket on the good will that the pontiff had garnered,” wrote Francis DeBernardo, who runs New Ways Ministry, a Catholic organization advocating for gay rights. “The time for vagueness, ambiguity, and secret meetings is over. Pope Francis needs to state clearly where he stands in regard to the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church and society.”
3) What about Ms. Davis’ divorces? Truly, I don’t care how many times Ms. Davis has been divorced. In fact, if anything, it makes me slightly more sympathetic. I can only imagine she has lived through real heartache. Yet her divorces do matter in this particular instance.
Ms. Davis has been divorced three times. If her county clerk had been a fundamentalist Catholic, s/he could have denied Ms. Davis her divorces on religious grounds, citing the Vatican's opposition, "freedom of religion," and the right to "conscientiously object." Instead Ms. Davis received the divorces she desired, yet refuses to grant homosexuals the marriages they desire. Her hypocrisy is flagrant. And so is the Pope’s!
The Pope has strongly upheld the Catholic church’s teaching that a marriage is between a man and woman, but “he didn’t emphasize the issue during his trip because he wanted to offer a ‘positive’ message about families to America,” Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the head of the Holy See Press Office told reporters. If this is the case, why did he visit Ms. Davis who has been through multiple divorces? It makes no sense.
4) Kim Davis was validated and LGBTQ folks were excluded, end of story. According to he Holy See Press Office, “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 Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Ms. 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.”
Really? That simple. The Pope just wanted a friendly chat with Ms. Davis and we shouldn’t read into it? Spare me! Francis might not have spoken about his meeting with Ms. Davis, but she did. “It was really very humbling to even think that he would want to meet me or know me,” Davis told ABC News. “Just knowing that the Pope is on track with what we’re doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything.” Yes, validates Ms. Davis’ mission to exclude LGBTQ from the very fundamental right to love and marry.
Smart, theologically educated progressive Catholics will have much wiser and nuanced things to say about the Pope’s visit with Ms. Davis. I highly encourage you to read them over my fiery condemnation of the Pope’s decision to spend time with one woman. When they write that we should not let this one blip overshadow the exceptional life and work of Pope Francis, please listen. I believe in my head (not my heart yet) they are right.
That said, I cannot ignore the life and ministry of another person—a lesbian woman, formerly Catholic, who misses the richness of her religious tradition. A woman who raised four children with her female life partner and could not do so in the church. She has paid her taxes, prayed daily, given to the poor, and shared love and grace where ever she has gone. For a moment, just a moment, she thought maybe there was room for her in the church of her childhood. After the Pope’s visit to Ms. Davis that earnest hope was shattered.
Mercy, politics, divorces? I ultimately don’t care. Instead I care deeply about the many LGBTQ folks in this world who are choosing love, family, and life-long commitment daily. When will we stop excluding them and show them mercy, Pope Francis?
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.