Media Kryptonite incarnate: Why such secrecy for pope's chat with Kim Davis? #DUH

How many of you in GetReligion reader-land were, by the time Pope Francis departed our shores, totally fed up with the number of adults -- priests even, in church sanctuaries --  shooting photos and even selfies during the events?

I mean, was there ANYONE who came within a mile of this pope who didn't whip out a smartphone and raise it on high to record the moment?

Well, it appears that at least one person did not do the selfie thing. That would be Rowan County clerk Kim Davis of Kentucky. 

Of all the questions being asked about the secret Washington, D.C., meeting between Davis and the pope, the one that I find the most interesting is this one: OK, where are the photos? Who would pass up a selfie with Pope Francis? The photo issue has been, on so many levels, a fine symbol for how strange this story has been from the get-go, when the Inside the Vatican report started circulating last night.

Maybe Davis took a selfie. Maybe not. But if so, it certainly appears that someone -- either Davis or a Liberty Counsel pro -- was told to keep it under wraps.

Perhaps this cyber-silence was a condition of the meeting being held? Reports indicate that Vatican photographers did record the meeting, as they do almost anything that involves the pope. Is it safe to assume that Davis was told that official photos would be forthcoming? That would certainly be another nice gift (along with rosaries pictured here) for a Pentecostal convert like Davis to offer to her Catholic parents.

One thing is certain: The Jesuit pope and his handlers knew this meeting, this symbolic gesture linking religious liberty and same-sex marriage, was the ultimate Kryptonite for the vast majority of elite journalists camped in the Acela corridor between Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Think about it. If word of this meeting had filtered out with Francis on U.S. soil the media  explosion would have been huge. I mean, it could have ended up on late-night talk shows! This would have shredded the script for a glowing, positive pastoral visit with progressive vibes.

Now the story is being reported, somewhat reluctantly. Here is the top of the simple and very factual New York Times story

ROME -- Pope Francis met privately in Washington last week with Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who defied a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, adding a new element to an American tour that saw Francis attract huge crowds and articulate left-leaning positions on poverty, immigration, the environment and inequality.
Vatican officials initially would not confirm that the meeting occurred, finally doing so on Wednesday afternoon, while refusing to discuss any details.
Ms. Davis, the clerk in Rowan County, Ky., has been at the center of a nationwide controversy over whether government employees and private businesses have a legal right to refuse to serve same-sex couples. She spent five days in jail for disobeying a federal court order to issue the licenses.
On Tuesday night, her lawyer, Mathew D. Staver, said that Ms. Davis and her husband, Joe, were sneaked into the Vatican Embassy by car on Thursday afternoon. Francis gave her rosaries and told her to “stay strong,” the lawyer said. The couple met for about 15 minutes with the pope, who was accompanied by security guards, aides and photographers.
“I put my hand out and he reached and he grabbed it, and I hugged him and he hugged me,” Ms. Davis said Wednesday in an interview with ABC News. ‘Thank you for your courage.’”
“I had tears coming out of my eyes,” she said. “I’m just a nobody, so it was really humbling to think he would want to meet or know me.”

This story is currently on the front page of the Times website, but way down from the big news. Nevertheless, it's important that the basic facts were published there at all.

How important? Check out his LOL Newsweek headline:

Pope Francis Met Kim Davis in Washington: New York Times

Did the pope know what he was doing when he met with Davis? I think the answer to that question is found in the following exchange during the presser on the flight back to Rome (which had already received minor media attention before the Davis meeting story broke):

Terry Moran, ABC News:
Holy Father, thank you, thank you very much and thank you to the Vatican staff as well. Holy Father, you visited the Little Sisters of the Poor and we were told that you wanted to show your support for them and their case in the courts. And, Holy Father, do you also support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example in issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Do you support those kinds of claims of religious liberty?
Pope Francis:
I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection. But, yes, I can say the conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right. Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying “this right that has merit, this one does not.” It (conscientious objection) is a human right. It always moved me when I read, and I read it many times, when I read the “Chanson de Roland” when the people were all in line and before them was the baptismal font and they had to choose between the baptismal font or the sword. They had to choose. They weren’t permitted conscientious objection. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights.
Terry Moran, ABC News:
Would that include government officials as well?
Pope Francis: 
It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.

The key words are "conscientious objection," in terms of the future arguments in courts.

At the very least, the symbolism of the Davis visit -- when added to the pope's remarks at the White House (text here), the Little Sisters of the Poor group hug and the address at Independence Hall (text here) in Philadelphia -- significantly raises the level of the  religious liberty energy during the visit. 

As always, or almost always, let's heed what the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., has to say in an analysis piece at Crux. Read it all, but here is a key chunk:

The fact that the Vatican has chosen not to comment probably means, at least in part, that they don’t want to be dragged into a detailed discussion of Davis’ situation.
That said, there’s no way to view the encounter other than as a broad gesture of support by the pope for conscientious objection from gay marriage laws, especially taken in tandem with his statement aboard the papal plane that following one’s conscience in such a situation is a “human right” – one, he insisted, that also belongs to government officials.
So what does it mean? ...
It means that Francis has significantly strengthened the hand of the US bishops and other voices in American debates defending religious freedom.
In the wake of a massively successful trip in which Francis was lauded for his stands on issues ranging from climate change to immigration to fighting poverty, it will be more difficult for anyone to wrap themselves in the papal mantle without at least acknowledging his concerns vis-à-vis religious freedom.

And also:

... Francis has also debunked impressions of a rift with the American bishops when it comes to the “wars of culture.”
Yes, Francis called the bishops to spurn “harsh and divisive” rhetoric and to embrace dialogue as a method. That does not imply, however, that he believes the substance of their concerns is mistaken, and by meeting both the Little Sisters of the Poor and Davis he drove that point home.

Stay tuned. You think?

IMAGE: The rosaries that Kim Davis says were given to her by Pope Francis. Photo distributed to the media (including The Los Angeles Times) by the Liberty Counsel. 

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