The Case for the Pope Getting Punk’d Into Davis Meeting

In my own post on Pope Francis’ interesting encounter with that well-known American spiritual leader the Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, I allowed as how it was possible the Supreme Pontiff got punk’d into a meeting he might not have undertaken had he know the context.

Well, Esquire‘s Charlie Pierce has made a full, compelling case that’s exactly what happened, and he’s even found a villain:

I spent a little time Wednesday night examining my conscience, as we used to say around the ol’ confessional, as regards the meeting between Papa Francesco and noted civic layabout Kim Davis. This contemplation was prompted by two things: first, an e-conversation I had with someone who had been part of the papal travelling party and second, the appearance of E. J. Dionne on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show on MSNBC. According to the first person, there were a great number of people during the pope’s tour who were simply hustled in and out for informal private audiences. According to Dionne, the meeting between Davis and the pope was brokered by Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the papal nuncio to the United States at whose residence the pope stayed during his time in Washington, which is when the meeting took place. Together, these facts set off my Spidey Sense about Vatican chicanery.

Vigano is precisely the kind of guy with the motive and the means to mousetrap the Holy Father into a meeting Davis and her legal team could exploit, you see.

The man is a real player within the institutional church. He first came to prominence as a whistleblower during one of the several investigations of the Vatican Bank, which may be what got him exiled to this godless Republic in the first place. Despite that fact, Vigano is well-known to be a Ratzinger loyalist and he always has been a cultural conservative, particularly on the issue of marriage equality. In April, in a move that was unprecedented, Vigano got involved with an anti-marriage equality march in Washington sponsored by the National Association For Marriage. (And, mirabile dictu, as we say around Castel Gandolfo at happy hour, one of the speakers at this rally was Mat Staver, who happens now to be Kim Davis’s lawyer.) In short, Vigano, a Ratzinger loyalist, who has been conspicuous and publicly involved in the same cause as Kim Davis and her legal team, arranges a meeting with Davis that the legal team uses to its great public advantage. Once again paraphrasing New Orleans lawyer Lamar Parmentel from The Big Easy, the Vatican is a marvelous environment for coincidence.

Indeed, says Pierce, the whole incident showed how thoroughly Francis was surrounding during his American trip with members of the hierarchy who share the well-known conservative Catholic sense that the current ruler of the Holy See is betraying his righteous predecessors:

Ratzinger’s fingerprints are all over this story. Vigano is a Benedict loyalist. Robert Moynihan, whose newsletter, Inside The Vatican, got the story first, is an actual lifelong Ratzinger protégé. And the Vatican press office acted just the way I’d want it to act, if I were the guy setting this up. First, it issues a silly non-denial denial, and then it merely confirms that the meeting occurred. At which point, the office clams up, leaving the story festering out there in the news cycle, and leaving the pope out there in the American culture war to twist in the wind. And, if this scenario is in any way accurate, it had its desired effect. The impact of what the pope actually said and did in America has been fairly well ratfcked.

It’s a good pot-boiling tale, and a convincing one. But it’s a reminder that even in an institution like the Catholic Church that is supposedly an absolute monarchy ruled by the Vicar of Christ, there’s a lot more going on that what one man wants to say.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.