US bishops applaud Vatican official who planned Kim Davis/Pope Francis meeting

Kim Davis and Pope Francis

Kim Davis and Pope Francis

BALTIMORE — U.S. Roman Catholic bishops, at an annual assembly Monday, gave two standing ovations to the Vatican ambassador behind Pope Francis‘ controversial meeting with the Kentucky clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano received the warm reception as he made his customary address to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, his first major public appearance since the stir over Kim Davis. Vigano turns 75 in January, the age when bishops are required to submit their resignations to the pope.

The ambassador had invited Davis to be among those greeting the pope in the Vatican embassy in Washington last September during Francis’ visit to the country. Her lawyer caused an uproar when he announced the meeting soon after Francis returned to Rome, describing it as a papal affirmation of Davis’ approach to conscientious objection. The Vatican insisted the meeting was not an endorsement and said she was one of several dozen people who had greeted Francis.

Davis had briefly gone to jail rather than comply with a court order to issue same-sex marriage licenses, becoming a lightning rod for tensions over the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage nationwide. The U.S. bishops’ conference has never commented on the pope’s meeting with Davis, and has not said what kind of accommodation they support for government officials with religious objections to gay marriage.

In his speech Monday in Baltimore, Vigano didn’t mention Davis. He urged the bishops to persevere in working to “preserve a moral order in society” and said they should not “fall prey” to “secularized and increasingly pagan” practices in broader society. He said Catholic colleges and universities, specifically those founded by Jesuits, should do more to shore up Catholic identity at the schools.

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