CNN reported the Argentine-born pontiff had a “private meeting” with Yayo Grassi, his partner, Iwan, and four other people at the Apostolic Nunciature in Northwest Washington on Sept. 23.
Grassi told CNN that Francis was his psychology and literature teacher at a Roman Catholic high school in the Argentine city of Santa Fe from 1964-1965. Grassi said the pontiff called him three weeks before arriving in the Americas and “said he would love to give me a hug.”
Grassi told CNN that Francis had previously known that he is gay, but had never spoken negatively about his sexual orientation.
“He has never been judgmental,” said Grassi.
News of the meeting came three days after the Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBT group that represents Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs, announced their client met with Francis in D.C. on Sept. 24 before he traveled to New York.
Reverend Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, on Friday described the meeting between Davis and Francis as “brief” and stressed it “should not be considered a form of support of her position.”
LGBT rights advocates welcomed Francis’ meeting with Grassi and his partner.
“It is heartening news that Pope Francis met privately with his friend and former student, Yayo Grassi, and his partner of 19 years, Iwan,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “It now not only appears that the pope’s encounter with Kim Davis has been mischaracterized, but that Pope Francis embraced these longtime friends.”
Frank DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that advocates on behalf of LGBT Catholics, also welcomed the meeting between Grassi and Francis. DeBernardo nevertheless stressed that the pontiff should have “formal dialogues with LGBT Catholics to discuss church teaching, policy and pastoral practice.”
“While I am glad to hear the story of the Yayo Grassi meeting, I still wish that Pope Francis would be more forthcoming about his personal experiences and relationships with LGBT people,” said DeBernardo. “That kind of openness would set a great example for bishops and other church leaders who cringe at the thought of any association with LGBT people or issues.”