UPDATE: 4:50 a.m. EDT -- Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, said he would neither confirm nor deny a report that Pope Francis met Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis in a private meeting during his visit to the United States last week, Reuters reported.
Davis’ lawyer Mat Staver told CBS News that his team did not initially want to disclose the meeting “because we didn't want the pope's visit to be overshadowed with Kim Davis.”
Earlier Tuesday, several reports cited a post on the Christian group Liberty Counsel's website that said that Davis and her husband had met with the pope at the Vatican Embassy in the nation's capital Thursday.
Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, secretly met with Pope Francis during his historic visit to the United States, her lawyer Mat Staver said Tuesday night, according to media reports.
Staver reportedly said that Davis and her husband met the pope privately last Thursday afternoon at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., for about 15 minutes. According to a statement posted on the website of the Liberty Counsel, a Christian lobby group, the pope thanked Davis for her “courage” and told her to “stay strong.” By early Wednesday, Vatican officials had not yet confirmed the meeting took place, according to the Associated Press.
"I was humbled to meet Pope Francis. Of all people, why me?" Davis said, according to the statement from the Liberty Counsel. "I never thought I would meet the Pope. Who am I to have this rare opportunity? I am just a County Clerk who loves Jesus and desires with all my heart to serve him.
"Pope Francis was kind, genuinely caring, and very personable. He even asked me to pray for him. Pope Francis thanked me for my courage and told me to 'stay strong’,” she added.
Davis made headlines after she spent five days in jail earlier this month for defying a federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite a June 26 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage.
News of the pope’s secret meeting with Davis comes a day after reports claimed that the pontiff told reporters aboard his plane -- on his way back to Rome Monday -- that government employees enjoy the "human right" to refuse their duties on moral grounds. The comment was linked to Davis' case though the pope did not mention any name.
"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 has merit, this one does not'," the pope said, according to a Reuters translation.
During Davis’ visit to the Vatican Embassy, “the pope came to her and held out his hand,” Staver said, adding: “Kim Davis has become a symbol of this worldwide conflict between Christian faith and recent cultural challenges regarding marriage.”