WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pope Francis met with a gay couple at the Vatican Embassy in Washington during the pontiff’s visit to the United States last week in a quiet gesture to the gay and lesbian community.
The meeting between Francis, an Argentine gay man and his long-term partner came to light as the Vatican tried to tamp down controversy about a separate meeting the pope held with well-known American gay marriage opponent Kim Davis.
The pontiff met on Sept. 23 with Yayo Grassi, a U.S-based Argentine caterer, Grassi’s male partner of 19 years, Iwan Bagus and three other people for 15 minutes, Grassi told Reuters.
Grassi, 67, has known the pope since Francis, 78, taught him literature and psychology at a high school in Argentina in the 1960s and has stayed in touch.
“What I can say is that he met with me knowing that I am gay, and we had an extraordinary, very moving conversation,” Grassi said.
The Vatican confirmed the meeting. A statement said Grassi, who had met the pope in the past, asked to present his mother and several friends to the pontiff in Washington.
“As noted in the past, the pope, as pastor, has maintained many personal relationships with people in a spirit of kindness, welcome and dialogue,” spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.
Both Grassi and his partner posted a video of the encounter on their Facebook pages.
The video shows Francis and his former student warmly embracing and chatting in Spanish in an ornate room in the embassy.
Grassi then introduces the pope one-by-one to three women and his partner, Bagus. Francis appears to know Bagus, and they shake hands warmly and talk about having met earlier in Rome.
At the end of their conversation, Francis embraces both men and kisses them on the cheek.
Grassi said that in 2010 he had emailed Francis, then archbishop of Buenos Aires, about gay issues, and his former teacher replied to say he would not tolerate homophobia.
The gay couple met the pope in Rome in 2013 shortly after Francis became pontiff, Grassi said. He described last week’s encounter as “two friends seeing each other after a while.”
Their meeting happened a day before Francis met Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In a bid to contain the controversy about the meeting with Davis, the Vatican said on Friday that the meeting with her should not be seen as an endorsement of her views.
The progressive group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good welcomed the news that Francis had met the gay couple.
“Pope Francis never ceases to surprise us. The news that Francis met with a gay couple should put to rest any notion that Pope Francis is held down by the narrow ideological divisions that plague the United States. He is first and foremost a pastor who is willing to encounter and engage anyone,” the group’s executive director, Christopher Hale, said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis