Kim Davis' lawyer claims she had secret meeting with Pope Francis

FROM SEPT. 28: Conscientious Objection Is a Human Right, Pope Says
FROM SEPT. 28: Conscientious Objection Is a Human Right, Pope Says

Attorneys for Kentucky official Kim Davis claimed Tuesday that she had a secret meeting with Pope Francis during his trip to America -- and said he told the defiant county clerk to "stay strong."

The clandestine communication occurred in Washington, D.C., on Thursday -- the same day as the pontiff's historic speech to a joint session of Congress, according to Liberty Counsel, which has represented Davis in her legal battles.

Davis sparked a national firestorm after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County, citing her religious beliefs as an Apostolic Christian. She was jailed for five nights before a judge allowed her to return to her job -- as long as she doesn't interfere with the granting of licenses.

See photos of Davis since her release from jail:

In a statement released by Liberty Counsel, Davis says she was "humbled" and never thought she would be granted an audience with the popular and unpredictable pontiff. The conservative legal nonprofit said Davis and her husband, Joe, shared face time with Francis at the Vatican Embassy.

She and the pontiff hugged, and he presented her and her husband with two rosaries, which she is giving to her parents, who are Catholic, Liberty Counsel said.

"Who am I to have this rare opportunity? I am just a county clerk who loves Jesus and desires with all my heart to serve him," Davis said in the statement. "Pope Francis was kind, genuinely caring, and very personable. He even asked me to pray for him. Pope Francis thanked me for my courage and told me to 'stay strong.'"

Davis was in Washington for the Values Voter Summit, where the Family Research Council, which opposes same-sex marriage, presented her with an award for defying the federal judge.

NBC News could not immediately verify Liberty Counsel's statements with the Vatican.

But the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, didn't deny the encounter took place but told The Associated Press that he had no comment on the topic.

But Francis appeared to back Davis when asked about the issue during his return flight from the U.S. on Monday. He said people, including government workers, have the right not to do something in which their conscience objects. He did not specifically mention Davis by name.

"I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right," the pope reportedly said.

Gay marriage, however, was not a topic that Francis dwelled on during his six-day, three-city tour of the United States. Rather, he delved frequently into immigration, climate change and fighting poverty.

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