Pope Francis met with a gay couple at the Vatican embassy in Washington during the pontiff's visit to the United States last week in a quiet gesture to the gay and lesbian community, the Vatican has said.

The meeting between Francis, an Argentine gay man and his long-term partner came to light on Friday as the Vatican tried to tamp down controversy about a separate meeting the pope held with well-known US gay marriage opponent, Kim Davis.

The pontiff met on September 23 with Yayo Grassi, a US-based Argentine caterer, Grassi's male partner of 19 years, Iwan Bagus, and three other people for 15 minutes, Grassi told the Reuters news agency.

Grassi, 67, has known the pope since Francis, 78, taught him literature and psychology at a high school in Argentina in the 1960s and has stayed in touch.

"What I can say is that he met with me knowing that I am gay, and we had an extraordinary, very moving conversation," Grassi said.

The Vatican said in a statement that Grassi, who had met the pope in the past, asked to present his mother and several friends to the pontiff in Washington.

"As noted in the past, the pope, as pastor, has maintained many personal relationships with people in a spirit of kindness, welcome and dialogue," Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said.

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Both Grassi and his partner posted a video of the encounter on their Facebook pages.

The video shows Francis and his former student warmly embracing and chatting in Spanish in an ornate room in the embassy.

Grassi then introduces the pope one-by-one to three women and his partner, Bagus. Francis appears to know Bagus, and they shake hands warmly and talk about having met earlier in Rome.

At the end of their conversation, Francis embraces both men and kisses them on the cheek.

Grassi said that in 2010, he had emailed Francis, who was then archbishop of Buenos Aires, about gay issues, and his former teacher replied to say he would not tolerate homophobia.

Source: Reuters