Individuals have the right to refuse performing tasks that violate their consciences, Pope Francis said Monday, in apparent support of a U.S. county clerk who was jailed for withholding marriage licenses from homosexual couples.
"I can say that conscientious objection is a right and it is 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," Francis said on a return flight to Rome after a 10-day trip to Cuba and the United States. "Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right."
The pontiff made that remark after a reporter in the press pool asked whether Francis supported individuals who did not "discharge their duties as government officials" because of personal beliefs.
Flanked by Rowan County Sheriff's deputies, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, center, with her son Nathan Davis standing by her side, makes a statement to the media at the front door of the Rowan County Judicial Center in Morehead, Kentucky, Sept. 14, 2015.
His reference was to Kim Davis, clerk of Rowan County in the central southern state of Kentucky. She was jailed for several days in early September, on order of a U.S. District judge, after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court's nine justices ruled, in a 5-4 vote, that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
But the Roman Catholic Church’s traditional view on marriage is that it should be reserved for heterosexual unions. Francis had just left Philadelphia after joining in events there for the World Meeting of Families, sponsored by the Vatican and Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Conscientious objection must be supported legally, the pope said on the flight. "Otherwise, we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying: 'This right has merit, this one does not.'"
Reuters contributed to this report.