VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican on Friday distanced Pope Francis from Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, saying she was one of dozens of people the pope greeted in the U.S. and that their encounter "should not be considered a form of support of her position."
After days of confusion, the Vatican issued a statement Friday clarifying Francis' Sept. 24 encounter with Davis, an Apostolic Christian who has become a focal point in the gay marriage debate in the U.S.
In a statement, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis met with "several dozen" people at the Vatican's embassy in Washington just before leaving for New York.
Lombardi said such meetings are par for the course of any Vatican trip and are due to the pope's "kindness and availability." He said the pope only really had one "audience" in Washington: with former students and his family members.
"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," Lombardi said.
Davis, a Rowan County, Kentucky clerk, spent five days in jail for defying a series of federal court orders to issue same-sex marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the country.
A judge ultimately freed Davis on the condition she not interfere with her deputies issuing the licenses. When Davis returned to work, she confiscated the marriage licenses and replaced them with new ones saying they were issued not under the authority of the county clerk, but "pursuant to federal court order."
Davis said earlier this week that she and her husband met briefly with the pope at the Vatican's nunciature in Washington and that he encouraged her to "stay strong."
She later told ABC: "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 intended no such validation.
News of the audience sent shockwaves through the U.S. church, with Davis' 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.
On Friday, Lombardi issued a fuller statement to "contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired."
From the start of his six-day tour, Francis encouraged Americans to preserve religious freedom, which he called "one of America's most precious possessions." But he listed it among many other issues, including immigration, climate change and the death penalty.
He did not focus on the debate over same-sex marriage, at one point telling the U.S. bishops to avoid "harsh and divisive" language despite the challenges they face in society.
As he left the country, Francis told reporters who inquired that he did not know Davis' 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," Francis said.