For a solid overview of what this all means, I would recommend reading John Allen Jr.’s piece at the Catholic blog Crux.
Here are some snippets that caught my attention:
If anyone suspected that Pope Francis didn’t really mean the strong words he spoke on religious freedom last week in the United States – that he was phoning it in, while his real concerns were elsewhere – news that he held a private meeting with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis certainly should lay that suspicion to rest.
The Vatican is not officially commenting on the meeting, which was first reported by Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican magazine. A spokesman told Crux on Wednesday that “I won’t say anything,” which, in effect, is a way of allowing the report to stand.
Taken together with his unscheduled stop to see the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Davis encounter means Francis has expressed personal support to leading symbols of the two most contentious fronts in America’s religious freedom debates – the contraception mandates imposed by the Obama administration, and conscientious objection on gay marriage.
First of all, the fact that someone arranged a brief encounter between Francis and Davis does not necessarily mean that Francis initiated the contact, or even that he necessarily grasps all the dimensions of her case. By her own account it was an extremely brief greeting, just long enough for the pope to tell Davis to “stay strong” and to give her a rosary.
It would be over-interpreting things to read the meeting as a blanket endorsement of everything Davis has said or done.
In addition, we don’t yet know how Francis sees the balance between honoring one’s conscience and upholding one’s responsibilities as a public official, because he hasn’t addressed that question at any length.
…the Davis meeting confirms that the US trip amounted to the public debut of “Francis 2.0,” meaning a pope more clearly perceived as standing in continuity with Catholic teaching and tradition, as well as in solidarity both with previous popes and with the bishops.
To put the point in crudely political terms, Francis is a figure who utterly defies the usual left/right divides, equally capable of meeting Kim Davis and embracing poor immigrant children at a Harlem school – seeing both as part of a continuum of concern for human dignity.
That will be a source of consolation to some and consternation to others, but in any event it’s now officially part of the Francis narrative.