LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The private meeting Pope Francis held with defiant Kentucky clerk Kim Davis is a strong papal endorsement of religious resistance to gay marriage, but it doesn't necessarily mean he approves of how she's waged her fight, experts said yesterday.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said their encounter in Washington last Thursday was private. Davis' attorney, Mat Staver, would not say how it was arranged. The Vatican essentially confirmed it, without further comment.

Davis said she grasped the pope's outstretched hand, and he told her to "stay strong." Davis refused to issue any marriage licenses in Rowan County, Kentucky, rather than comply with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide. She served 5 days in jail rather than resign. Some of her deputies now issue licenses without her authority.

"Just knowing that the pope is on track with what we're doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything," Davis told ABC News.

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But Vatican observers say that's reading too much into the visit. "You can't take his presence with somebody as his affirmation of everything that they stand for," said Cathleen Kaveny, a theologian and legal scholar at Boston College.

"He thanked her for her courage and told her to stay strong," Kaveny said. "That's a commitment to her voice in the conversation. I don't think it's necessarily commitment to her policy views."-- AP