Pope Francis gay marriage refusal
Pope Francis has denied meeting US city official Kim Davis Reuters

Pope Francis has denied having a private meeting with Kim Davis, the US city official who was jailed for refusing to issue a gay marriage licence, saying the "brief greeting" with her during a general "audience" in Washington does not equate to a support of her position.

In a statement released on the Vatican website, spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pontiff "did not enter into details of the situation of Mrs Davis" during a brief meeting at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington DC upon the Pope's historic visit to the US and Cuba.

The statement goes on to clarify that the Pope did not invite Davis for a private meeting. "The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family," it said.

"Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City. Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope's characteristic kindness and availability," the statement said, adding that the meeting with Davis "should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects".

Earlier, the Kentucky county clerk affirmed the pontiff had words of encouragement for her. "It was really very humbling to even think that he would want to meet me or know me," Davis told broadcaster ABC. "He said: 'Stay strong.' That was a great encouragement," Davis, an Apostolic Christian, said. "Just knowing that the Pope is on track with what we're doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything."

Her lawyer, Mat Staver, said his client and the Pope met in private for 15 minutes at the Vatican Embassy in Washington DC, a circumstance Lombardi did not deny, only saying he had no comment on the subject.

'Human right'

The Pope had already appeared to back Davis's decision to refuse a marriage licence to a homosexual couple, as he told reporters, during his flight back to Rome, that conscientious objection was a human right to be defended.

Asked if individuals have a right to refuse to abide by some laws, including the one on issuing marriage licences to gay people, he said conscientious objection has to be present into every judicial structure "because it is a right".

"I can't have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection but, yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right," he said, according to Reuters. "And if someone does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right."

The Kim Davis case has surged into national significance in the US after 2016 Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz attended a rally with her after her release.

The 50-year-old was jailed for five days in September for refusing to comply with the order of US district judge David Bunning to issue licences to homosexual couples, in the aftermath of a Supreme Court ruling that made gay marriage legal across the nation. Davis justified her decision saying she could not act against her faith.