How the Pope Was Played


Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis listens to a customer following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. Although her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied, Davis still refuses to issue marriage licenses. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Many people felt dejected when Pope Francis, on his recent visit to the U.S., met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, becoming a media sensation and a cause célèbre of the religious Right. It turns out both Davis and the papal meeting were creatures of a shadowy organization called the Liberty Counsel, which specializes in evangelical Christian litigation—a kind of ACLU in reverse. From the outset, it was clear that Davis was getting aid and succor from some outside source. A middle-aged clerk of limited intelligence doesn’t suddenly stage a rebellion and then push all the right buttons to trigger a media circus. She knew that the Liberty Counsel—officially listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center—would come to her defense, as indeed it did, with great fanfare, when she was arrested for malfeasance. What’s trickier is how the Counsel caused the papal meeting to occur. Being traditionally hostile to Catholicism, an evangelical outfit would seem an unlikely catalyst for such an encounter. According to The Daily Beast, they worked through Archbishop Vigano, the Vatican ambassador to the U.S., who’s known for his hostility to same-sex marriage. Vigano had already flirted with U.S. evangelical groups, attending a meeting last spring of the National Organization for Marriage, which declared him the “official representative of Pope Francis.” So he was game for the Counsel’s gambit and agreed to arrange the meeting with Davis—apparently without informing the Pope of who this woman was or what she represented. The Right touted the event as an anti-gay coup; a spokesman for the Pope downplayed the meeting. Davis was removed from her post so that gay couples could now be married in a Kentucky county.