The pope walks into a meeting and…

Joan of Arc in Notre-Dame de Paris

Joan of Arc in Notre-Dame de Paris

That sound you hear is the inevitable back-peddling that results when something blows up in a public figure’s face. In this case the figure is the ever-popular, nary-a-misstep Pope Francis, who, it turns out, met during his Washington D.C. visit with Kim Davis, the rogue Kentucky clerk who went to jail rather than issue gay marriage licenses.

It’s a measure of the esteem in which the pope is held that many have been falling over backward to make excuses for what has been viewed as a miscalculation. The Vatican had intimated it was no big deal. Davis’ lawyer, of course, countered, Oh, yes, it was. Meanwhile, fans of the Holy Father have suggested that perhaps he was manipulated into meeting Davis by conservative churchmen who snuck her onto the unsuspecting Pope’s agenda. And now it appears that Rev. Carlo Maria Viganò, the anti-gay marriage papal nuncio to the United States, engineered the meet, more of a group greet, and, to some minds, is being set up for the fall.

Look, we don’t have to make excuses for the Pope and Davis meeting. Each believes that marriage is between a man and a woman. At the same time, Roman Catholicism teaches that God loves everyone and everything in the creation he entirely made. Hate the sin, love the sinner. So the Pope would have no problem meeting with a gay couple, an incarcerated criminal, Davis, anyone.

Similarly, she is entitled to her beliefs. No doubt she sees herself as a martyr or a latter-day Dorothy Day, whom the pope spoke about in his Congressional address – defying the secular law to uphold that of a higher power.

Here’s the difference:  A martyr sacrifices herself to a cause. Joan of Arc – the subject of a new book by Helen Castor refused to renounce her belief that God had guided her through the voices of Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Margaret and Michael to deliver the French from the yoke of the British and, so, went to the stake. Dorothy Day bucked American authority to champion the rights of workers and the poor. To be considered even remotely in Day’s vein, Davis would’ve had to sacrifice her job, her livelihood, to uphold her beliefs. Instead, she went to jail not for her faith but because she wanted to have her cake and eat it, too. She wanted to cherry-pick her duties – which included issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, who are entitled to those licenses under the law she was sworn to uphold – and get paid for that cherry-picking. That’s not martyrdom or even noble defiance. That’s chutzpah.

As for the Pope, why not spend less time with the Davises of the world and more with the victims of priestly sex abuse? What’s troubling about the Davis greet is that it reinforces the notion that the Church holds some closer to the heart than others. Witness the pope’s praise of the bishops for their handling of the sex-abuse crisis. Really? For sweeping it under the rug and making it worse?

Yet God loves all of his creation.

It would appear, however, that members of that creation are more selective.