WASHINGTON — An openly gay former student of Pope Francis‘ who visited with the pope during his recent trip to Washington said Saturday he was surprised Francis had met with the Kentucky county clerk who gained attention for refusing to issue same-sex couples marriage licenses.
The pope’s meeting with Washington resident Yayo Grassi, his boyfriend and a few others came to light Friday as the Vatican was distancing itself from claims the pope’s meeting with the clerk, Kim Davis, was an endorsement of her stance on same-sex marriage.
Grassi, 67, met Francis more than 50 years ago when the future pope taught at his all boys school in Argentina. They reconnected in 2008, and since becoming pope Francis has met him and his boyfriend of 17 years twice, once in Rome and most recently in Washington, Grassi said.
Grassi, who came to the United States in 1978 and runs a catering business, spoke with The Associated Press at his home Saturday.
On what he thought of the pope’s meeting with Davis:
“I thought, ‘This is really strange. This is not like him,'” he said.
He said he told friends who were quick to criticize that they should not rush to judgment and that he didn’t think they had all the facts. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, declined to say who invited Davis or what the pope knew of her case but such encounters are arranged by the Vatican ambassador and his staff, not the pope’s delegation or the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Grassi said after the Davis story came out and he was contacted by the media he thought: “Perhaps this is the time to defend him. I owe him that as a friend, not because he is a friend but because I know part of the truth.”
Grassi said “encouraging somebody who is so divisive” like Davis would be out of character for Francis.
“Here is this guy that is so much into integrating everybody, communicating with everybody,” Grassi said, adding he was “500 percent sure” the pope did not initiate the meeting with Davis.
On exchanging e-mail with Pope Francis, then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, when the country was debating legalizing same-sex marriage, which it did in 2010:
“I remember reading excerpts from the press saying that Cardinal Bergoglio had said … things that were extremely negative. I immediately thought ‘This is not like the Bergoglio that I know, not the person that I loved so much when I was growing up,'” he said.