At last the truth has emerged.
Despite the claims made by her lawyers earlier in the week Kim Davis, the controversial Kentucky county clerk, did not receive a private audience with Pope Francis.
In a statement on Friday, the Vatican insisted the pope's brief meeting with Davis “should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”
The Vatican is pushing back against the perception that the pope’s visit was hijacked by social conservatives intent on scoring points in the nation’s culture wars at the expense of the pontiff himself.
Rev. Federico Lombardi, the director of the press office of the Holy See, went into full damage control mode on Friday telling The New York Times that the meeting with Davis was not a “real audience” and adding that she was just one of a large number of people who had gathered to greet the pontiff before he left Washington for New York.
Davis, whose refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has made her a folk hero among social conservatives, was reportedly ushered into a hurried meet and greet with the pontiff through an invite from the US Papal Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Vigano.
Church analysts told the press yesterday that Vigano can now expect to find himself de-selected from his current post at the “first respectable opportunity” for his “grave misstep.”
Meanwhile Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, told The Times on Friday that it was Archbishop Vigano's office that had extended the invitation to Davis and that the pope was probably not aware of what a lightning rod her case was.
Davis' story is not well known in Europe and the pope was unlikely to know who she was by sight, observers say. Sources inside the Vatican added that he was blindsided by the invite and the reaction that followed it, adding that her appearance had “exploited” the pontiff's good will in a meeting that should never have happened.
In a further dramatic twist that underlines how far the Vatican wants to punt from this story, the spokesperson added that the only real audience granted by the pope whilst in Washington was to one of his former students and his same sex partner.
Yayo Grassi, a gay Argentine caterer reportedly introduced Francis to his longtime partner as well as to his mother and a few of his friends in an audience that was filmed.
Until the divisive headlines generated by the Davis meeting the pope's U.S. visit had been considered an unqualified triumph. Afterward one Vatican official spoke of “a sense of regret” over the incident, which they feared would diminish the overall impact of the papal visit.
Davis' lawyer Mat Staver told the press on Friday that the meeting with his client was never meant to be an endorsement of Davis' current legal case. But Davis herself contradicted that suggestion earlier in the week.
"Just knowing that the pope is on track with what we're doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything," she told ABC News.
On Friday however the Vatican made clear that the pope had neither agreed with or validated her anti-gay views.
During his visit the pope discussed the plight of the poor, ate with the homeless, visited a prison, discussed the dangers of climate change and spoke about the vulnerability of immigrants in the United States.