He said an unnamed Vatican official initiated the meeting on Sept. 14, the day Davis returned to work after being jailed, saying the pope wanted to meet her. He said Vatican security picked up her and her husband from their hotel and told her to change her hairdo so she wouldn’t be recognized since the Vatican wanted the meeting kept secret.
Staver disputed a Vatican spokesman’s claims that the pope only met Davis in a “farewell lineup” or receiving line. He said the couple was in a separate room with Francis and Vatican security and personnel and that no member of the general public was present, to keep the meeting secret. He said the Vatican official who arranged the meeting insisted that it not be made public until after Francis had left the U.S., and gave him the “green light” to make it public after Francis was back in Rome.
News of the meeting sent shockwaves through the U.S. church, with Davis’ supporters saying it showed the pope backed her cause and opponents questioning whether the pope had been duped into meeting with her.
Initially the Vatican only reluctantly confirmed the meeting but offered no comment.
On Friday, Lombardi met with Francis and issued a fuller statement to “contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired.” Francis has made clear he dislikes being used for political ends, and Lombardi’s statement appeared intended to make clear that the encounter should in no way be exploited.
Lombardi declined to say who invited Davis into the nunciature or what the pope knew of the case ahead of time. Such encounters are arranged by the Vatican ambassador and his staff, not the pope’s delegation or the U.S. bishops’ conference.
The Vatican nuncio in Washington is Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, an Italian best known for his role in the Vatileaks scandal, which helped bring about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation: The scandal began in 2012 when an Italian journalist broadcast letters from Vigano, then the No. 2 Vatican administrator, to Benedict in which he begged not to be transferred for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions of euros. Vigano was eventually transferred to Washington to become ambassador.
He has since strongly taken up the religious liberty charge championed by U.S. bishops, suggesting that he might well have supported Davis in her battle over gay marriage: In a 2012 speech to the University of Notre Dame, Vigano denounced threats to religious liberty in the U.S. and abroad, citing a public school curriculum presenting same-sex relations as “natural and wholesome.”
An assistant to Lombardi, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, said he believed the pope would have been given a list of names of the several dozen people who were invited to the embassy to bid farewell as he left Washington, but was unaware of the details of her case or any possible implications of the meeting. He hypothesized that the reception amounted to a receiving line-type event, with people in various rooms on the first floor of the embassy to greet the pope and receive a rosary from him.