Winters has weighed-in at The National Catholic Reporter. Here is the crux of the argument. First, Pope Francis was set up by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano of the Vatican embassy. Second, Kim Davis is not a conscientious objector.
Here is a taste:
…let me offer an alternative theory of how the meeting happened and what it means: Somebody messed up. A source at the bishops’ conference told me on background that the meeting happened “against the advice of the bishops’ conference.” Other reports in both the Washington Post and the New York Times agree that the meeting was arranged by a “Vatican official.” Seeing as the meeting happened at the nunciature in Washington, it could only have happened with the approval and participation of the nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. Perhaps he did not understand how Davis’ case was not really an instance of conscientious objection. Perhaps, he felt sorry for her, as I did, because sending that poor woman to jail was overkill by the judge. Perhaps he did not see how the news of this meeting would trample on the pope’s message and begin to drown out everything else the pope said or did during his six days here. Of course, it is a nuncio’s job to know such things and, most especially, not to put his boss in a compromising position. If the president visits a foreign country, and the ambassador, against the advice of the State Department, nonetheless introduces the president to someone who causes a controversy that reflects badly on the president, that mistake is laid at the feet of the ambassador, not the president. If this meeting was all the nuncio’s doing then he should, in conscience, quit too.
As for what it means, here is my hunch: The pope knew about Davis what the person introducing them told him about her. If she was introduced as someone who went to jail because of her commitment to traditional marriage, then I do not find it surprising that the pope embraced her and wished her well. The pope met many, many people during his trip and as the ever-quotable Fr. James Martin S.J. pointed out, “Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pope Francis met with Mark Wahlberg, and that does not mean he liked ‘Ted’.” Watching the video of the interaction on the plane between Terry Moran and Pope Francis, it did not appear that the pope was connecting Moran’s question with any meeting he had four days prior. And, Moran’s question was also poorly framed, premised on the false assumption that Davis’ case is a case of conscientious objection.
We know something else. This story is now in the hands of Davis and the Falwell empire, neither of which have much knowledge of, nor institutional loyalty to, the Catholic church. Until the Vatican or the bishops’ conference gets out front of this story, Davis and her evangelical lawyers will be the only ones explaining what happened and what it meant. The Vatican’s “no comment” is woefully insufficient. The headlines yesterday morning almost all had the words “secret meeting” and surely at the Vatican they know that people are attracted to secrets. This story will not go away. Various news accounts have people calling the pope “a liar” and “a coward.” That is not a good thing if you are tasked with press operation for the pope. Someone needs to say something or we will only know what Davis and her lawyers want us to know. The rest will be speculation, endless speculation. Non-stop speculation. If the pope was badly served by his staff, let that be known. If the pope was badly served by himself, let that be known. But, neither the bishops nor the Vatican can afford to let this fester another minute.