Speed Reads

Vatican whodunnits

The Pope Francis–Kim Davis dustup has entered the conspiracy phase

The Vatican has officially distanced itself from Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing religious freedom. "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,” said Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, on Friday morning. It wasn't a "real audience," he added; Davis was just one of "several dozen persons" Pope Francis met with out of his "characteristic kindness and availability."

That leaves the mystery of who set up the meeting, and why. There is plenty of speculation, informed and otherwise. "A highly placed source inside the Vatican claims the pope was blindsided" by the meeting at the Vatican embassy in Washington, reports CBS News correspondent Jay Levine. The meeting was reportedly "orchestrated by the man who lived there, the pope's representative here, Carlo Maria Vigano," he adds, and not even "Lombardi knew about it ahead of time. Nor did the leadership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which would have opposed it."

Vigano is the presumed villain in what is probably the most entertaining theory of how Francis met Davis, from Charles Pierce at Esquire, who said the papal nuncio's involvement "set off my Spidey Sense about Vatican chicanery." The current pope has made lots of enemies in the Vatican bureaucracy, many of whom "are loyal to both former pope Josef Ratzinger and, through him, to the memory (and to what they perceive as the legacy) of John Paul II," Pierce said. He laid out how he would derail Pope Francis' visit to the U.S., and his message in general, then wrapped it all together:

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. [Esquire]

The Vatican statement should be the final chapter in the episode, unless there's a third red papal slipper to drop. [Here you have to imagine the sinister music.] Stay tuned.