Papal visit takeaway: Why did Pope Francis need to hug hicks and old-school nuns?

So what do you think we talked about during this week's extra-long "Crossroads" podcast?

Might it have had something to do with the thousands and thousands of words that your GetReligionistas contributed to the tsunami of cyber-ink about the Pope Francis media festival in the Acela zone between Washington, D.C., and New York City? #Duh

That was going to be the case no matter what happened in the days after his departure. But then the pope talked with reporters on the flight back to Rome and said all kinds of interesting and even controversial things. Click here for my Universal syndicate column on that. Click here for the transcript of that presser.

And then the mainstream media's all-time favorite pope met, to one degree or another, with you know who. How is that sitting with the chattering classes? This Slate piece by Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart -- creator of the "Tiny Butch Adventures" series -- was not typical. But it collected and openly stated so many themes found elsewhere. These chunks contain the key thoughts:

I woke up this morning to reports that during his recent U.S. visit, Pope Francis met with Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk best known for refusing to issue lawful marriage licenses, interfering with the ability of her deputies to issue lawful marriage licenses, and making unauthorized changes to the lawful marriage license formsfor her county. When I saw this news, my heart sank. In one 15-minute meeting, the pope undermined the unifying, healing message that many queer people and our supporters were so eager to have him bring.

This blow hit me particularly hard because I had written so hopefully about the pope’s address to Congress. 

And also:

... Kim Davis is the living embodiment of the sort of minor, distracting, noxious culture-war figure who continually saps America’s ability to focus on anything but the distractions of culture warriors. By meeting with her, the pope has ensured that the takeaway from his visit won’t be that we must come together to focus on more important matters -- because he failed to resist the lure of the latest divisive headline-grabber’s antics himself. ...

This is unfortunate, because the other message, the one about coming together and addressing the poor, the vulnerable, and the dispossessed was a message we desperately need to heed. There are more urgent topics in this world than how a single county in Kentucky resolves its legal obligations to issue lawful marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But if even the pope got himself stuck to this tar baby, how are the rest of us supposed to resist the temptation it presents?

OK, OK, one more sample from the flood of think pieces that are in out there on this topic. This one -- from the other side of the cultural aisle -- is from Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Week, in a piece that ran under this rather blunt headline: "Why the media lost its mind over Kim Davis meeting Pope Francis."

It's hard to say much more than this:

... The whole world is mad. Why? Because the pope is a prop. In the hands of our nation's true clerical class -- journalists -- this particular pope's function is to demoralize and shame the bad Catholics, i.e., the conservative ones. The previous pope's function was to symbolize their wicked intransigence.

Pope Francis is supposed to be the cool pope. He humiliates traditionalist cardinals. He embraces transexuals. If he occasionally says stuff against gay marriage, well, so what? Like Barack Obama in the 2008 election, sometimes you say what you have to say. But we know where his heart is. He embraces the marginalized and despised.

The pope gets used. That tear-jerking moment when the pope embraced that 5-year-old girl who is trying to keep her parents in the country? That was planned out in advance.

But this prop accomplished what no upstanding playwright would script. He met someone the scribes really do despise. He embraced that hick.

Oh, and he quietly met with old-school -- thus bad -- nuns too, as in the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are at the heart of another major religious-liberty war with the White House. That's almost as bad as meeting with a tacky Pentecostal lady from Kentucky.

As I noted here and then here, these issues of moral theology and public life really are journalistic Kryptonite -- as the Vatican continues to find out.

After the podcast was recorded, the Times was back with an update on this situation that appears to have been given more prominent play than the original story confirming the Davis meeting. (Readers: If you see The New York Times on paper and this is not the case, please let me know and I will correct this.) The headline: "Pope Francis’ Meeting Wasn’t an Endorsement of Kim Davis’s Views, Vatican Says." The key info up top:

Ms. Davis -- the Rowan County, Ky., clerk who defied a judge’s order and refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples -- was among the guests ushered into the Vatican’s embassy for a brief meeting with him, the Vatican said.
“The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. 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,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said in a statement released on Friday morning.

Ah, but once again there is that crucial question: What are the "views" that Kim Davis is supposedly advocating? Are they the views that she has stated herself or the views of the activists -- as opposed to her legal team -- who have rushed to trumpet her case?

Once again, in a story about the Vatican placing some distance between the pope and Davis, the Times never bothered to state what Davis is saying. Her position, and that of her lawyers, is that she backs compromise efforts to square current Kentucky laws with both the 5-4 Obergefell decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and the First Amendment. This would allow gay and lesbian citizens to obtain marriage licenses, as is now their right. However, a North Carolina-style compromise would offer a conflict-of-interest workaround so that government officials who believe that endorsing same-sex unions -- with their signatures -- do not have to violate the doctrines of their faith.

In other words, they would be granted -- in the pope's words -- a "conscientious objector" status. The Times story, to its credit, does note:

Francis has emphasized that he strongly believes in conscientious objection as a human right, a position he reaffirmed on his plane ride home.

Would it help to know that this is also the stance of Davis and her legal team? I would think so. Did the pope discuss potential compromises with any U.S. bishops while here? That would be a big story.

There is so much more in this podcast linked to the papal visit. For example: What do you think about clergy whipping out their smartphones -- inside sacred space -- to shoot photos of the pope or even, given the chance, selfies? 

Grab yourself a legal stimulant and have a seat. This podcast is packed.

Please respect our Commenting Policy