Pope Francis privately met with a gay couple last week while visiting Washington, D.C., according to several news reports Friday.
Yayo Grassi, an openly gay Argentine-American caterer who lives in the Washington area and is a former student of the pope’s, met with Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature one day before the pope met Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who has been at the center of a national controversy over her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Joining Grassi was his boyfriend of 19 years, Iwan.
The news was first reported Friday by CNN, which published an interview with Grassi and described a video of him embracing the pope. A partial video of Grassi's encounter with Francis can be seen below. The Associated Press reported Friday that the Vatican confirmed Francis had met with a "gay former student and his partner."
Grassi did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Huffington Post.
Grassi, who studied under the pope when Francis taught at Inmaculada Concepcion high school in Santa Fe, Argentina, in the mid-1960s, told CNN the meeting was arranged via the Apostolic Nunciature, which is the Vatican's embassy in Washington.
According to a Vatican statement on Friday, the embassy also arranged the pope’s meeting with Davis, which the Vatican said “should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.” The Vatican said the pope only had one “real audience” while at the embassy, which was his former students.
Grossi’s description of himself as a former student would seem to match the Vatican’s.
In an interview with The New York Times, Grossi said that he did not think the pope was making a statement with the meeting, which reportedly lasted between 15 and 20 minutes.
“I don’t think he was trying to say anything in particular,” he said. “He was just meeting with his ex-student and a very close friend of his.”
According to a HuffPost translation of the above video, Grassi introduced Francis one by one to several of his friends from Argentina, Indonesia, Thailand and Bolivia.
One of the women, an Argentine friend of Grassi's, fell to tears as she exchanged greetings with Francis.
"Pray for me," the pope said, a phrase he is famous for.
"We've taken up too much of your time," Grassi said.
"No, by God, thanks for having me," Francis replied.
The pope, following Argentine custom, kissed Grassi and Bagus each on the cheek when saying goodbye.
The news that Francis met with a gay man in a long-term relationship within hours of meeting with one of the highest-profile opponents of same-sex marriage in the U.S. elicited surprise and applause from LGBT advocates, some of whom had said they were offended by the pope's meeting with Davis.
"Pope Francis never ceases to surprise us," said Christopher J. Hale, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, in a statement. "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."
"Once again, this shows that the Pope meets with a wide variety of people on his trips," said the Rev. James Martin, editor at large of American Magazine, a Jesuit publication, in an email to HuffPost. "Of course it does not betoken any sort of papal approval of same-sex marriage. But if the story is accurate, I'm glad to hear that the Pope keeps in touch with old friends, gay or straight."
UPDATE: 2:15 p.m. -- The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a spokesman for the Vatican, issued the following statement Friday afternoon: "Mr. Yayo Grassi, a former Argentine student of Pope Francis, who had already met other times in the past with the Pope, asked to present his mother and several friends to the Pope during the Pope’s stay in Washington, DC. As noted in the past, the Pope, as pastor, has maintained many personal relationships with people in a spirit of kindness, welcome and dialogue."
Roque Planas contributed reporting.
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