Vatican plays down Pope's meeting with US gay marriage objector Kim Davis
Pope Francis's meeting with Kim Davis "should not be considered a form of support of her position", the Vatican has said.
After days of confusion, the Vatican issued a statement clarifying Francis's September 24 meeting with Mrs Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who has become a focal point in the gay marriage debate in the US because of her refusal to sign marriage licences for gay couples.
The Vatican said Pope Francis met with many people during his US stay, due to his "kindness and availability".
The statement said: "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."
Mrs Davis, a Rowan County clerk, spent five days in jail for defying a series of federal court orders to issue same-sex marriage licences.
She said earlier this week that she and her husband met briefly with the pope at the Vatican's embassy in Washington and that he encouraged her to "stay strong".
She later said in an interview: "Just knowing that the pope is on track with what we're doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything."
The Vatican statement made clear the pope expressed no such sentiments.
News of the audience sent shockwaves through the US church, with Mrs Davis's supporters saying it showed the pope backed her cause and opponents questioning whether the pope had been duped into meeting with her and truly knew the details of her case.
Initially the Vatican only reluctantly confirmed the meeting but offered no comment.
From the start of his six-day tour, Pope Francis encouraged Americans to preserve religious freedom, which he called "one of America's most precious possessions".
But he listed it among a list of many other issues, including immigration, climate change and the death penalty.
As he left the country, Pope Francis told reporters who inquired that he did not know Mrs Davis's case in detail, but he defended conscientious objection as a human right.
"It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right," Pope Francis said.