Further Thoughts

As I write this, a man in an Oklahoma prison is about to be executed for a murder he claims he did not commit.

Pope Francis has asked for his life to be spared.

His name is Richard Glossip.

At this late moment, it is not likely that his execution will be stayed, so he will most likely be dead by the time you read this.

(Here is a link to his story.)

In Syria, Russian aviators today are flying sorties against ISIS positions, in an effort to shore up the regime of Syrian President Assad.

Workers in diverse places, including China, are being laid off this week, according to reports in the financial media, by the tens of thousands.

We live in a real world, with real problems, and in a fallen world, where egoism and cruelty have led to injustice and violence since the killing of Abel by his brother Cain.

And I write this to set into context the story of the very private meeting of Pope Francis with Kim Davis, which occurred on Thursday afternoon, September 24 — the afternoon of the Pope’s address to Congress.

There has been a storm of media attention regarding this encounter since I broke the story yesterday evening. “Why did the Pope wish to see Kim Davis, of all people?” many asked on websites across the internet.

The answer, I think, is this.

Amid all of his many and well-publicized gestures of affection, respect and tenderness during his trip — kissing children, caressing the sick and handicapped, blessing prisoners in a Philadelphia jail — gestures of tenderness which Father Jonathan Morris, when I was with him on Fox News during the Pope’s final Mass in Philadelphia, called the single most striking thing about the entire trip, Pope Francis also wished to offer a very private, intimate gesture of respect and tenderness to a woman who has been widely vilified and has suffered imprisonment due to her fidelity to her personal religious convictions with regard to marriage.

At first, many doubted that this story was even true. “Never happened,” many said, in web postings and in emails to me.

Of course the story is true.

The encounter did occur.

Why did the Vatican keep the meeting private? How was it even possible that it occurred, amid the scrutiny of the Pope’s every move by thousands of journalists 24/7? And, again, why Kim Davis?

The Vatican — in my opinion — decided to keep this encounter secret because it wished to respect Kim’s intimacy and not create a circus around her and her husband which might have been emotionally overwhelming. It was respectful of her.

The meeting was possible — in my opinion — because America is still a free country, and people can make private plans to meet which are not necessarily rendered public instantly. There is still space for personal encounters out of the glare of the media spotlights.

Why Kim? This was a very personal encounter and it had — in my opinion — a personal purpose: to let Kim Davis know that the Pope understood and appreciated the emotional and spiritual cost of her stand of conscience to the point of going to jail for her beliefs.

Clearly, the Pope regards the conscience of a person as one of the most intimate and precious parts, or elements, of that person, of that person’s identity, of that person’s soul.

To coerce that conscience, to compel it by force to act against its own deeply held beliefs, becomes, in this understanding, a type of cruelty, a type of violence against the person — a type of execution of that part of the person which is most intimate and precious.

In this sense, the Pope was recognizing that Kim, moved by deeply held beliefs, was under pressure, including time in jail, to submit those beliefs to an external power, the power of the state.

The case of Kim Davis and the Pope is not the only news story in this cycle, and it is not the most important.

The Pope’s decision to meet with Kim Davis was one additional gesture of tenderness toward a person who is passing through a very public struggle of conscience on a very public stage.

That he met and spoke with her privately is, in this context, entirely appropriate.

Pope Francis, in his “little gestures” toward those who are weak, suffering, on death row, and engaged with struggles of conscience, is coherent and inspiring.

“Oremus pro invicem” — “let us pray for one another.”

(to be continued)

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