Pope Francis met controversial Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis last week at a secret audience at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C. according to her lawyer Mathew D. Staver. The news was first published by the Catholic publication Inside the Vatican, the Advocate reported.
The Vatican confirmed the visit Wednesday morning. "I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add," Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said, according to the New York Times.
Davis achieved notoriety earlier this month for refusing to grant marriage licenses to LGBT couples after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equally across the nation.
According to Davis' own reported account, she and her husband Joe were ushered into an audience with Francis on Thursday. An unnamed official from the Vatican side initiated the meeting. The two reportedly embraced upon seeing each other and spoke together in English without the aid of a translator.
"Thank you for your courage," Francis reportedly said. "Stay strong." He then asked Davis to pray for him, a request he is also known to have made during his private audience with House Speaker John Boehner.
"It was really very humbling to even think that he would want to, you know, meet me or know me," Davis told ABC News. Staver said photos of the event will be forthcoming.
The meeting was in step with Francis' personal views on the subject. On his flight back to Rome, Francis told a reporter he felt government officials had a right to conscientious objection when fulfilling the duties of their office violated their religious convictions. The original question specifically cited marriage equality as an example.
"Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right," said Francis. "And if someone does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right."
According to an account by Staver on CBS News, the meeting lasted around 10 minutes and was kept under wraps by the Vatican to ensure it would not overshadow the pope's larger message. Despite the legion of reporters following Francis, Staver said Davis managed to sneak into the Apostolic Nunciature in the back of an SUV and wore "her hair up in a different way."
The Vatican's statement comes as Staver faces outcry over misleading claims earlier this week. At a Values Voters summit Friday, he showed an image of what he said were 100,000 Peruvians at a prayer gathering in Lima in solidarity with Davis. The image was later revealed to be from an unrelated event from 2014, prompting a flurry of explanatory press releases.
Sept. 30, 2015, 10:29 a.m.: This post has been updated to include Vatican confirmation of the pope's visit with Kim Davis.
Correction: Oct. 2, 2015