On the flight back to Rome, he was asked if he supported individuals, including government officials, who refuse to abide by some laws, such as issuing marriage licenses to gays.
“Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right,” Francis said.
Earlier this month a county official in the state of Kentucky, Kim Davis, went to jail because she refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple following a Supreme Court decision to make homosexual marriage legal.
Davis’s case has taken on national significance in the 2016 presidential campaign, with one Republican contender, Mike Huckabee, holding rallies in favor of Davis, a Apostolic Christian, who has since joined the Republican party.
“I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right,” he said, speaking in Italian.
“And if someone does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right,” he added.
Francis said conscientious objection had to be respected in legal structures. “Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying: ‘This right has merit, this one does not.'”
I hope to read a full transcript of his remarks here. He defends conscientious objection in principle, but concedes that he “can’t have in mind all cases that exist about conscientious objection.” As you know, I am very much not a supporter of Kim Davis’s, but I can agree with the Pope here, given how general his statement is. I am sure it’s going to be pulled out of context to claim Francis for the Kim Davis side. And if he had the particulars of this case explained to him, he might well back Davis.
My point simply is that it’s a real stretch to say “Pope Francis backs Kim Davis” based on his general comments in the press conference, as reported by Reuters, especially given his caveat about particulars. It is quite possible — I would say desirable — to provide for conscientious objection for many American dissenters, while still believing that government employees and elected officials have a many fewer grounds for standing on conscientious objector status, and still being allowed to keep their jobs. This would satisfy Francis’s belief that conscientious objection should be respected in legal structures, but would nuance it to fit the quotidian practicalities of governing a pluralistic country.
Once we have a transcript of Francis’s remarks, I’ll update this post if facts warrant.
UPDATE: Via Denny Burk, here are the full remarks of Pope Francis on the issue:
Terry Moran, ABC News:
Holy Father, thank you, thank you very much and thank you to the Vatican staff as well. Holy Father, you visited the Little Sisters of the Poor and we were told that you wanted to show your support for them and their case in the courts. And, Holy Father, do you also support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example in issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Do you support those kinds of claims of religious liberty?
I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscience objection. But, yes, I can say the conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying ‘this right that has merit, this one does not.’ It (conscientious objection) is a human right. It always moved me when I read, and I read it many times, when I read the “Chanson de Roland” when the people were all in line and before them was the baptismal font and they had to choose between the baptismal font or the sword. They had to choose. They weren’t permitted conscientious objection. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights.
Terry Moran, ABC News:
Would that include government officials as well?
It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.
Burk adds, with appropriate caution:
Pope Francis is the progressive’s dream Pope. But the Pope’s liberal admirers are not going to like this. My hunch is that Pope Francis did not know the particular background to the reporter’s question. I wonder if he would have answered in the same way if he had known? As it is, however, the Pope has landed on the side of Kim Davis. And that’s really something.
It is. Burk is right not to claim that Francis would have supported Davis fully, but it is hard to deny that the pope would have supported some compromise that would have allowed Davis to keep her job while still making it possible for gay couples to exercise their right to obtain a marriage license. Not, of course, that Francis would support gay marriage, but notice that Francis said, “if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights.” Do we want to keep the peace in this time of cultural transition? Francis does. We could all learn from him. Kim Davis and her supporters could — but so too could Davis’s progressive opponents.