Footage of Pope Francis repeatedly withdrawing his right hand as a long line of people bowed and tried to kiss the ring on it has gone viral.
The video, from the pontiff’s visit to a Catholic shrine in Loreto on Monday, drew reaction from both his critics and supporters.
The Vatican did not say why the pope was so insistent on not having the ring – a simple silver one with a cross – kissed in the long receiving line of over 100 people on Tuesday. It appears as if the visitors to the shrine in the Italian town of Loreto were not informed of the correct protocol.
A close aide to the pope who spoke on the condition of anonymity defended his decision.
Pope Francis really doesn’t want anyone kissing his ring.
This from today, after Mass … pic.twitter.com/CZUO8ppNfo
— Catholic Sat (@CatholicSat) March 25, 2019
“Sometimes he likes it, sometimes he does not. It’s really as simple as that,” said a close aide to the pope who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The aide added he was “amused” by all the reaction.
LifeSiteNews, a conservative Catholic website that often criticises the pope, called the episode “disturbing” in the headline of an article that included a long history of the rings pope’s wear and their significance.
“It’s high time kissing bishops’ rings disappears altogether. It’s just ridiculous and has nothing to do with tradition. It’s an import from monarchies. Much of the pomp around bishops should be ditched,” Tweeted Jesuit priest Russell Pollitt.
Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, a supporter of Francis, countered by Tweeting: “He’s making sure that they engage with him, not treat him like a sacred relic. He’s the Vicar of Christ, not a Roman emperor.”
Some Vatican watchers noted that even former Pope Benedict, a hero to nostalgic conservatives, and his predecessor John Paul, did not like having their hands kissed – at least not by long lines of people, for the sake of expediency.
The papal ring, worn on the third finger of the right hand, may be the most powerful symbol of a pontiff’s authority.
As soon as a pope dies, the ring is immediately destroyed in order to indicate the end of his reign.
Kissing a papal ring is often freighted with centuries worth of political and religious significance.