Wrestling with Pope Francis (and Kim Davis): Scrogues Converse

Behind the scenes at Scholars and Rogues ideas are hashed out in emails and on social media. This week the meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis–and the bigger issues it raises for us–kept rising to the top of the pile. Perhaps it is appropriate that on the Feast of St. Francis we share some of our thoughts.

On the one hand, I just want Kim Davis to go away. Her fifteen minutes are long expired–time to move on. But then the story broke about her inexplicable meeting with Pope Francis. And the tide kept coming in, waves with more and more detail washing more pieces of the puzzle onto the shore. And we got hooked.

The first result was my post Thursday, “The legacy of Pope Francis will not be his meeting with Kim Davis.” There were only a few comments on it online, but the discussion among Scrogues was much more provocative and we are sharing it with you below in an installment of the occasional feature called “Scrogues Converse.”

One of the amazing things about our group is the diversity of backgrounds and points of view that we bring to the table, and this Scrogues Converse is no exception. We are all over the map on matters of faith and religion, from pagan, agnostic, and atheist to Unitarian-Universalist, Christian, and quite frankly, unknown. But while we may not, in some cases, subscribe to religious beliefs, we certainly think about–and discuss–matters of religion, faith, ethics, morality, and belief often. The Pope Francis-Kim Davis storyline allowed us to connect lots of dots–and if the picture is not entirely clear, it’s fascinating, in a Picasso-Duchamp kind of way. – Cat White

I meant to leave it [the Pope Francis Legacy story] as a draft but hit Publish instead of Save. I can sense Sam salivating in anticipation from here.

The view from Ha’aretz in Israel: “Give Me a Bigoted but Honest Rabbi or Priest Before a Phony Pope Like Francis.” Anshel Pfeffer is an interesting columnist, if anyone wants to follow him on Twitter…

Thanks for the link but I could only read the first paragraph.

Found this article last night: “Was Pope Francis Actually Swindled into Meeting Kim Davis?” I ran it by someone I know who has more insight that me and the response was “YES, spread the word!”

I’ll say here what I said to Cat privately yesterday. You’re the most powerful institution in the history of the planet. There is zero excuse for getting played by a hillbilly. If you’re the Vatican, you should be at least as savvy with pr and optics and brand strategy as my simple country boy butt, but it’s clear that I could walk in there today and tell them all kinds of stuff they obviously do not know.

And no, I’m not bragging. There isn’t a town of any size in America that doesn’t have several folks who can say the same. I’d be stunned if there’s anyone on this list they couldn’t learn from.

It’s inexcusable how they fucked up. The good news is that YOU’RE STILL THE FUCKING POPE. You can step in front of a mic today and get really clear about what you meant and didn’t mean and mean right now and if you got played you can say hey, I have no experience with toxic hair balls like Kim Davis and I should have done it differently.

Are the politics of being da pope tricky and complex? You betcha. But it’s a dictatorship and you ain’t running for reelection. Lead, goddammit.

Weird, I’ve posted the text below. It sort of says what Sam said …the pope isn’t elected, he’s a dictator. Take-away line: “But we should never entertain the dangerous illusion that religious leaders, no matter how benign they seem, are worthier than our accountable elected leaders.”

And this just came out [from the Vatican]: “Statement regarding a meeting of Pope Francis and Mrs. Kim Davis at the Nunciature in Washington, DC

The brief meeting between Mrs. Kim Davis and Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC has continued to provoke comments and discussion. In order to contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired I am able to clarify the following points:

Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City. Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.

The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.

The question remains: how did she get invited? The Nunciature, evidently. And I wouldn’t know a Nunciature if it walked up and started gnawing on my crotch.


A Palpatine Benedict appointee. Good thing I’m not a conspiracy theorist.

If this is all accurate, and I’m da pope, I’m going to have some pointed questions about why my triumphant visitation upon America turned into a goddamned dumpster fire.

Here’s a totally disinterested observation:

That Pope Francis’s visit has been turned into this is a pretty good indication of how far the right will go to invalidate anyone – including the guy with Jesus on speed dial – who does not conform to their view of what religion ought to be doing in America – i.e., justifying bigots, racists and demagogues. That a Benedict guy set this up (if such is the case and seems plausible) tells you that the Pope is facing the same vile hate mongers and progress resisters in his own house that he faces in the Huckabees and Cruzes of the world.

This is not a Francis issue – it’s an America – and right wing crazies – issue. And all the yammering is doing exactly what these assholes want – destroying the moral authority and bully pulpit of a guy who has dared to suggest that Christianity should try living in 2015 instead of 1015.

I was sent an article from the Catholic Reporter in response to the Esquire link. Here’s an excerpt:

During his stay in the United States Sept. 22-27, Pope Francis had other private meetings in the nunciature in Washington, the U.N. nunciature in New York and at the seminary in Philadelphia where he stayed. The Vatican announced several of those meetings, including the meetings in Philadelphia with survivors of sexual abuse and with a family of five that drove from Argentina to the World Meeting of Families in a 1980 Volkswagen bus.

Lawyer Mat Staver, who represents Davis, told Catholic News Service in a phone interview Sept. 30 that he could not discuss details of how the meeting came about.

He said Davis was accompanied by her husband, Joe.

“I think the meeting is more important than how it came about,” Staver told CNS from the Orlando, Florida, office of the firm he founded, Liberty Counsel. [emphasis added]

Two thoughts:

1) This line says a LOT:

“I think the meeting is more important than how it came about,” Staver told CNS from the Orlando, Florida, office of the firm he founded, Liberty Counsel.

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! I am the Great and Powerful Oz!”

2) And this from Vatican spokesman Thomas Rosica in WaPo sounds like someone being introduced to the underside of a bus, “In terms of why this person was invited, you have to ask those questions of the nunciature.” Ouch.

I’m with Jim on this one. Keep your eye on Vigano:

A controversial figure both in Rome and in the United States, Viganò has gone further than other church leaders in his campaign against same-sex marriage. Among other things, he appeared at an event this year with the National Organization for Marriage, a group that vocally opposes same-sex marriage and with which U.S. bishops typically don’t publicly ally. (

I’m not a betting person, but I’d almost put money on a one-way ticket back to Rome.

In a lot of ways this discussion reminds of damned near every conversation I have had about Obama and/or other Dem leaders in recent years. One line of thinking – mine, usually – excoriates this crowd for their ample and manifest failures. The response emphasizes how much worse the alternative is and points to all the obstacles they faced. Really, goes the argument, it’s amazing how much they got done under the circumstances.

I have always been equal parts realist and dreamer, I guess, and anybody who has read me over the past eight years knows the internal battle I wage. And it’s happening again. On the one hand, Pope Frankie is probably the best pope in history. Seriously, I’ve been as blown away as anyone by his tenure so far, to the point where I wonder how the fuck he got elected. Did the other cardinals know what they were doing? How the hell does a small group of men elect Hitler and then a decade later name Mother Teresa to replace him.

Has Francis been laying in the weeds calculating this his whole life, pretending to be less of a Dirty Hippie than he really is just so he can get elected, then WHAM! Liberal Jesus Boy! (If so, maybe this is the game Hillary is playing?)

On the other hand, he’s still dictator of the biggest institution in history and there’s no telling how many billions the church is worth.

Sometimes I think wow, what a great step in the right direction. Other times I realize that he still hasn’t handed over church records on pedophiles or sanctioned gay marriage or women priests.

In other words, he’s better, but no way in hell is he good enough. So let’s at least a) acknowledge the ambivalence that we feel, and b) admit that there is reason for the ambivalence. Better and Bad are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Which is sort-of what that Ha’aretz article was saying … sure, he’s the leader of a large organisation, but don’t confuse him with actual elected officials. The pope has no real requirement to change his mind on anything if he doesn’t want to…

It also means that if he changes his mind the institution needs to follow.

That isn’t how institutions work. The church is similar to what it was a thousand years ago. The church is the organism. The people are just cells.

Sure, massive institutional lag. The bigger and older the organisation, the deeper the lag. Misfit popes have been appointed before … the organisation continues relatively unchanged.

Here you go–this story actually makes sense:
This man invited Kim Davis to meet Pope Francis. Tell him to resign.
This man invited Kim Davis to meet Pope Francis. Tell him to resign.
The pope didn’t ask to meet with her. The papal ambassador made it happen.

It still isn’t conclusive that the guy had ill intent. It’s certain he knew exactly who Davis is and what she represented. So at a minimum it’s clear that he acted out of strong conservative principles. He may have thought he was doing a good thing. If so, he was clearly wrong and he is patently unfit for the responsibility he has. There isn’t a company in America where a local GM or a PR director in a similar position wouldn’t be out of a job today had he/she put the CEO in a similar position.

And while we’re at it: Vatican sacks gay priest after highly public coming out

Check the headline this morning: Pope Francis asserts marriage is forever at start of family meeting

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis opened a divisive meeting of the world’s bishops on family issues Sunday by forcefully asserting that marriage is an indissoluble bond between man and woman.

Okay, normally I’d read this as “Popes gonna Pope.” Actually, normally I wouldn’t read it at all. But in this context, I’m wondering if there’s a little extra heat on it. Francis has to be a little annoyed by l’affaire Davis and how his spectacularly successful trip to the US was hijacked in the blink of an eye by a slack-jawed yokel from some backwater called “Kentucky.” By now it’s clear that he was played, and badly, and perhaps with the witting help his own ambassador.

Francis is, as I have said before, probably the best Pope in history. But he’s also no dummy, and if he were not a far more shrewd political animal than he appears to be he wouldn’t be the Pope. Period. So it’s safe to say he has read all we have read and thought a good deal about what this whole uproar is costing him.

He knows now, if he didn’t before, that Kim Davis has been married four times and had out-of-wedlock children sired during an illicit extramarital affair.

So the corporate communicator in me is thinking that this pronouncement, while spoken before 270 bishops in the Vatican, might be aimed at a faux-Christian troll in #Merica.

Or maybe I’m projecting. In any case, he said it and if the shoe fits….

The Takeaway:
Is it coincidence that in the midst of a period of internal reflection and discernment on the family and marriage, and perhaps, in the larger sense, a period of reflection on the very future of the Catholic Church, that there should be public controversies and differences of opinion? Not at all. Great change in the church, such as Vatican II and earlier periods such at the response to the Protestant Reformation have always been accompanied by divided opinions and factions.

But those earlier times had more controlled messaging. Not that “secret” was always secret–there were even leaks during the selection of the pope. Now the Vatican has to contend with events–even “private” ones–quickly becoming public. Therein lies the frustration. In the case of the Pope, he is an autocrat of sorts. But one with an enormous and powerful bureaucracy, the Curia, not of his choosing and not entirely under his control. There is also the continued presence of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, in his quarters on the grounds of the Vatican.

Add to that the complications of dealing with secular political leaders not under the Pope’s control. There will be no Henry II prostrate in the snow to get back in the pope’s good graces. And apparently it’s not just those at the highest echelons who can impact history and decisions now–it’s middlemen with access and axes to grind and a willingness to throw anyone under the bus for their own gain, from the Pope to a county clerk from Kentucky. There truly is nothing sacred.

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