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By Alex Dobuzinskis and Philip Pullella

(Reuters) — Pope Francis met a Kentucky county clerk, who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, during his visit to the United States last week, the Vatican said on Wednesday.

“I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no comment to add,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her husband met the pope during the Washington leg of his U.S. visit, she and her lawyer told American media.

The Davis couple traveled to Washington and met the pope at the Vatican embassy last Thursday, ABC News and CBS News reported.

“It was really very humbling to even think that he would want to, you know, meet me or know me,” Davis told ABC. “I put my hand out, and he grabbed it, and I hugged him, and he hugged me and he said, ‘Thank you for your courage’.”

“He told me before he left, he said, ‘Stay strong.’ That was a great encouragement,” Davis said.

Davis said knowing that the pope agreed with what she was doing “kind of validates everything.”

ABC said the pope gave Davis a rosary, which she plans to give to her Catholic parents.

The pope, speaking to reporters as he returned home from his 10-day trip to the United States and Cuba on Monday, said government officials had a “human right” to refuse to discharge a duty if they felt it violated their conscience.

Davis was jailed for five days in September for refusing to comply with a judge’s order to issue the licenses in line with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Davis has said her beliefs as an Apostolic Christian prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Her church belongs to a Protestant movement known as Apostolic Pentecostalism.

To keep a low profile, Davis went to the Vatican embassy in a sports utility vehicle with her hair in a different style than her normal look, her lawyer, Mat Staver told CBS.

Conservative Christians, including some Republican presidential candidates, have said Davis is standing up for religious freedom.

But the American Civil Liberties Union, which went to court to ensure same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses in Rowan County, has argued she has a responsibility as an official to issue the licenses, regardless of her views.

The ACLU, in papers filed on Sept. 21 with the judge hearing the case, asked the court to require Davis to stop making alterations to the licenses, such as removing any reference to the Rowan County clerk’s office.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Philip Pullella in Rome; Writing by Jeffrey Benkoe; Editing by Lisa Lambert and James Dalgleish)

Photo: Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis speaks during an interview on Fox News Channel’s ‘The Kelly File’ in New York September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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