The visit of Pope Francis to the United States was one of the biggest media stories in a long time. Given how few members of the media are actually observant Catholics, what explains all the glorious attention and reverence he has received? One reason is that our culture has an insatiable appetite for celebrities, and the Pope is certainly a global celebrity. Another is that our culture is hungry for moral authority and has not completely erased the vestiges of our Christian moral heritage.
After the Pope was safely back in Rome, a fresh media explosion erupted over the revelation that he quietly met with the jailed county clerk from Kentucky, Kim Davis. As a county clerk and a public official, she refused to obey the law of the land (created by the Supreme Court in June) and issue marriage licenses to two persons of the same gender. She was arrested and a judge had her sent to jail. She was released five days later. Most people agree that law and order is important for a civilized society and that Kim Davis violated the law of the land. St. Paul reminds us: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities." (Romans 13)
So, why did Pope Francis meet with a lawbreaker? Was he tricked? Kim Davis reportedly said that he hugged her and told her to "stay strong."
Depending on what sources you read, Pope Francis may have personally requested this meeting or he may have had no idea who Kim Davis was and felt "exploited" by the meeting. We may never know the answer to this, but we do know what Pope Francis said to a reporter from ABC News while on the flight back to Rome:
Terry Moran, ABC News:
Holy Father, thank you, thank you very much and thank you to the Vatican staff as well. Holy Father, you visited the Little Sisters of the Poor and we were told that you wanted to show your support for them and their case in the courts. And, Holy Father, do you also support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example in issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Do you support those kinds of claims of religious liberty?
I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection. But, yes, I can say the conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right. Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying 'this right that has merit, this one does not.' It (conscientious objection) is a human right. It always moved me when I read, and I read it many times, when I read the “Chanson de Roland” when the people were all in line and before them was the baptismal font and they had to choose between the baptismal font or the sword. They had to choose. They weren’t permitted conscientious objection. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights.
Terry Moran, ABC News:
Would that include government officials as well?
It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.
Full text of the Q&A: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/text-of-pope-s-press-conference-on-return-flight-from-the-united-states
The bottom line is that everyone agrees that there is a higher authority than the law of the land. People may differ on what that is, but this fact alone establishes the principle that following the law of the land is not absolute. If the civil law conflicts with God's law, we must follow the higher law and this is not controversial. This is called "civil disobedience" and it has a rich history in our country.
There is no need to follow an unjust law. This is what Pope Francis has affirmed.
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5)