Those jumping for joy at the news that Pope Francis granted an audience to Kim Davis while he was in Washington got a rude shock on Friday. It turns out that Francis granted only one official audience during his visit to the United States, and it wasn’t with the embattled clerk from Rowan County, Kentucky. It was with a longtime friend and former student, who is openly gay.
According to the Vatican, Francis had an emotional reunion with Yayo Grassi, who has known the pope for half a century. Grassi studied literature and philosophy with the now-pope, who was then Jorge Mario Bergoglio, at a Catholic high school in Santa Fe, in northeastern Argentina, from 1964 to 1965. He got back in touch with Bergoglio after he became archbishop of Buenos Aires. In his only interview with an American network, Grassi, who first came out in 1996, told CNN that Francis himself arranged the audience. Grassi said:
“Three weeks before the trip, he called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug.”
Grassi came to the Vatican Embassy in Washington on September 23 with his partner of 19 years, Iwan Bagus, and several family members. Canal 9 Litoral, a local station from Argentina, got a video of the meeting. Watch here:
Francis greeted Grassi with a warm hug and noted that he had met Bagus once before in Rome. At the end of the audience, Francis hugged Grassi and Bagus and kissed them both on the cheek. Grassi told CNN that Francis has long known that he is gay. The pope is personally opposed to same-sex marriage. However, Grassi said that “as a human being,” Francis is “open to all kinds of people,” including LGBT people. He also thinks Francis was somehow “misled” into meeting with Davis.
Not surprisingly, the two have had their differences. In 2010, Argentina became the 10th country in the world, and the first in Latin America, to legalize marriage equality. This came over the bitter opposition of then-Cardinal Bergoglio, who called same-sex marriage “the work of the devil.” Grassi emailed Cardinal Bergoglio to say that he found it “disappointing” that someone who shaped his thinking could say something that sounded so backwards. Cardinal Bergoglio then personally emailed Grassi to tell him that there was no room for homophobia in the church.
Francis’ audience with Grassi sounds very much in character with what we’ve seen from this pope over the last two-plus years. Granting an audience with Grassi proves you can disagree with someone’s lifestyle without being pigheaded about it. I can think of more than a few politicians in this country who can take a hint from him.