For his supporters, the all too brief era of reformist Pope Francis came to a stunning end within a few hours of his departure from U.S. soil this week.

The pope had barely left American airspace on Tuesday before news broke that he had given a private audience to one unnamed individual during his celebrated three day visit.

When reports began to suggest that that unnamed individual was none other than Kim Davis, the infamous Kentucky county clerk, the nation's incredulity lit up the internet. 

No one thinks that the pope is a supporter of same sex marriage, but to give the honor of his only private audience to America's most famous homophobe? What on earth was he trying to say?

Key supporters are appalled, having to once again confront or explain why the Catholic Church is still an anti-gay organization. Progressive Catholics took to social media in their thousands on Tuesday to claim they were experiencing a profoundly serious case of whiplash. Were we utterly mislead, one commentator wrote.

Kim Davis managed to ruin the cool Pope, too. Man, she sucks.

— Kim (@kkjordan) September 30, 2015
Meanwhile on his flight home to Rome, without mentioning Davis directly, Francis claimed that denying gay couples marriage licenses could be considered an act of 'conscientious objection.'

This is specious nonsense, his critics fired back. Davis is not a conscientious objector; she's a conscientious obstructer. She is denying other people their legal rights and privileging her own, they said.

The truth is her refusal to comply with federal law is not simply a matter of conscientious objection, it actually is more complicated than that. The pope should not join Davis in her blanket denial of other people’s civil rights.

But no matter where you stand, there is no question that this is an unusually confrontational discussion for the pope to participate in, in the very last moments of what many were calling an otherwise flawless trip.

Knowing that Davis does not have the country's support, the meeting was conducted in secrecy. (The only other private meeting the pope conducted was with victims of clerical abuse, a comparison that is in itself enraging many LGBT critics).

Later, a visibly elated Davis, confirmed to the press that the pontiff had indeed met with her and told her to “stay strong.”

Considering that she makes over three and half times the average wage of her fellow Americans for a job she refuses to fully perform, perhaps the pope would have been better off lending his strength to the LGBT youth who must now make their homes at the Ali Forney Center in New York City, often after being made homeless by the condemnation of their often religious parents, one critic wrote.

To make such an obvious play for the affections of his conservative critics, who moments earlier were condemning him as a radical socialist environmentalist, already looks uncommonly crass.

There is no question that the optics of tossing the hottest coal in the current 'culture wars' as a parting shot to America looks terrible, a public relations disaster of the first magnitude.

Although observers have already tried to downplay its significance, the pope's meeting with Davis gives serious ammunition to critics who say that when it comes down to it, Francis is proving to be every bit as doctrinaire as his predecessors.

Meanwhile supporters and critics seem to agree that, although the country was riveted by his visit, the pope's influence on the American public may have been overstated. After all he asked for clemency for Kelly Gissendaner, the woman on death row in Georgia, but authorities executed her anyway.

So could his coddling of a religious extremist undo much of the good will that his visit inspired? Is he really aligning himself with the likes of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee? Is it possible that his deft political antennae could have seriously misjudged how the country would respond to this inexplicable meeting?

Speaking out of both sides of your mouth can greatly diminish your message. Trying to mean all things to all men often ends up with you meaning nothing to any of them, critics said.

This was a stunning coda to a successful visit, but it is already coming to define it.

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