CINCINNATI -- Attorneys for Kim Davis say she and her husband met privately with Pope Francis at the Vatican Embassy in Washington last week.
The Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal nonprofit, said the pope encouraged Davis to "stay strong" at a meeting Thursday. Francis' trip was his first to the United States during his time as leader of the Catholic Church.
Davis is a county clerk in rural Kentucky who's refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because she says doing so would violate her Apostolic Christian faith. Earlier this month, Davis spent several days in jail for her refusal, despite a Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex unions legal nationwide.
According to the Liberty Counsel, Pope Francis told her, in English, "Thank you for your courage." He also asked Davis to pray for her, and gave Davis and her husband, Joe, rosaries he'd blessed. Kim Davis plans to give them to her parents, who are Catholic.
WCPO has contacted the Vatican to confirm the meeting took place.
Asked publicly about Davis' case, Francis said he didn't know about it in detail, but he upheld 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.
Just months after his 2013 election, Francis said the Catholic Church should put compassion over rules, unsettling American bishops who had been taking a harder line on church teaching in the face of increasing acceptance of gay relationships and other societal changes they found immoral. The pope did not suggest they drop any specific activity, but he pressed for a different tone.
John Carr, who served for more than two decades as the social justice director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, summarized the pope's message on social issues as "no obsession, no retreat."
"He said he came not to lecture the bishops, but what he did was to show them how to be pastors in challenging and promising times in the church," Carr said.
A Pew Research poll released in late July found 57 percent of American Catholics now support same-sex marriage, though it violates church doctrine.
Davis has allowed marriage licenses to be issued since her release from jail, but only without her name and title. She also announced that she has left the Democratic Party and become a Republican.
Her stand has become something of a cause célèbre, prompting two Republican presidential candidates -- U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- to visit her in jail. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, told members of the LGBT community Sunday that freedom of religion isn't reason enough to deny any American their constitutional rights. Cincinnati resident Jim Obergefell -- the plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, the legal case that led the Supreme Court in June to rule narrowly in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples -- introduced Obama.