A couple of interesting (and revealing) things happened in Washington, D.C., recently:

First, during his visit here, Pope Francis held a joint appearance with President Barack Obama on the topic of supporting religious freedom.

The good news is that one of them appeared to mean it.

That’s because Francis then met with the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns ordered by the Obama administration to finance forms of birth control that effectively abort embryos.

And on his flight back to Rome, the pope, in what the Reuters news service called “his most direct comments in the nation’s debate over gay marriage,” told reporters that “government officials should have the right to refrain from actions that violate their religious beliefs.”

Reuters reported that the pope said, “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right. If someone does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”

The comment was widely interpreted to apply to the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk briefly jailed for her refusal to lend her name to licenses for same-sex marriage.

Interestingly, it turns out that my previously stated view that Davis is a hero of the Christian faith is indeed shared by the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

That’s because Pope Francis took time out of what had to be an impossibly crowded schedule to meet Davis last Thursday at the Vatican’s Apostolic Nunciature (its diplomatic mission) in Washington, according to Davis’ lawyer, Matt Staver.

Davis was in Washington to receive a special award for her courage from the Family Research Council at the group’s Values Voter Summit.

So far as I can tell, Davis is the sole evangelical Christian to be so honored by Francis during his visit. Their private meeting was later confirmed by the Vatican.

As Staver described the event, the pope told Davis, “Thank you for your courage,” and added, “Stay strong.”

Staver said Francis “held out his hands and asked Kim to pray for him. Kim held his hands and said, ‘I will. Please pray for me,’ and the pope said he would. The two embraced. The pontiff presented Kim and Joe Davis each with a rosary that he personally blessed. Kim’s mother and father are Catholic, and Kim and Joe will present the rosaries to her parents.”

He quoted Davis as saying, “I was humbled to meet Pope Francis,” whom she described as “kind, genuinely caring and very personable.” She added, “Of all people, why me? I never thought I would meet the pope. 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.”

On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, Planned Parenthood director Cecile Richards was not invited to meet the pope.

Second, House Speaker John Boehner surprised the political world by announcing he would retire at the end of October.

The only possible reason for that abrupt announcement absolutely had to be that he had counted up the votes in favor of his retaining the powerful position of speaker of the House — and came up short.

Even if he could scrounge up enough Democratic votes to retain the post over the opposition of most of his own party, a speaker elected by the minority party would have no credibility whatsoever.

But that was the point: Boehner, and to some extent his counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been pleading weakness and displaying irresolution for far too long.

Republicans are tired of asking why they gave the party control of both chambers of Congress and then have seen it accomplish very little with it.

Defenders of the current leadership note that deficit spending has been greatly reduced, while efforts are ongoing to use the reconciliation process to defund large portions of Obamacare (a move sure to be vetoed by Obama if it gets to his desk).

Meanwhile, money to keep Planned Parenthood on the federal dole is included in the most recent budget. And Iran is still on track to get a nuclear bomb, while Russia eats our lunch (and our breakfast and dinner) in the Middle East.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California says he will do a better job than Boehner, but skepticism abounds. It looks like the long-awaited revolt against the status quo in Washington is under way, with a vote on a new speaker set for Oct. 8.

Revolutions are messy things, and sometimes the new boss actually is worse than the old boss. But without much to cheer about anyway, it looks like the GOP’s backbenchers are rolling the dice on a double-or-nothing bet.

I like my popcorn with lots of butter, please.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. Email at: [email protected].

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