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
I’ll admit it. I’m not a fan of Pope Francis, but I’m a faithful Catholic and a priest so I don’t usually criticize him. Plenty of other do, so I reckon I can keep my big trap shut and do my job.
However, for some reason this video that has surfaced on Twitter showing Pope Francis deliberately refusing to allow people to kiss his papal ring has got me riled up.
Should it worry me? Probably not. It’s not big deal right?
I’m not so sure. It seems to me there are a couple of issues here. The first is the traditional devotion of the faithful. In some places it is customary for the people to kiss the pope’s ring or the priest’s hands. When I was visiting a parish in California some time ago with a large Philippino congregation I was embarrassed when all the women kissed my hand in greeting, and wanted to pull my hand away like the pope does.
When I commented on this the parish priest explained, “Yes, it’s embarrassing, but that’s what they do. It’s their custom. Once you understand that they’re not honoring you they are honoring Jesus in you as the priest, then you will be okay with it, plus, its bad manners to pull away just as it would be if a French person wants to give you one of those double kisses on each cheek.”
Therefore I do actually think it’s disturbing that the pope behaves in this way.
First of all, as the priest in California explained, it seems discourteous. It is part of good manners to adapt to the customs and traditions of the people we are with as much as possible, and the higher position you hold the more this applies.
There’s an old story about Queen Victoria who was visiting the widow of a miner. She sat down at the poor kitchen table and the old woman poured the Queen a cup of tea. Some spilled into the saucer and the old widow picked up the saucer and slurped the tea from it. The Queen copied her. It was poor table manners, but the greater courtesy was to respond gracefully to one’s host.
The second problem with the Pope’s behavior is more troubling. It would seem that he had not yet figured out that being the pope is not about him. This tendency to impose his personality and opinions on the papacy was there from the beginning in his refusal to wear the mozzetta and papal stole when he appeared on the balcony. Then it continued when he decided not to live in the apostolic palace.
These displays of “humility” are embarrassing and indicate (like not allowing people to kiss his ring) that he sees himself as bigger than the office he holds.
The difficulty with these displays is that they are not much more than theatrics. There are more substantial things Pope Francis might do to make his point. Wouldn’t a top to bottom house cleaning of the Vatican finances complete with total transparency do much more to make the point about poverty and faithful stewardship than the histrionics of living in the Casa St Martha? Wouldn’t it be truly humbling if the Pope were to root out the gay mafia in the church rather than promote them?
The fact is, when Catholics honor their priest they should be honoring Jesus in that man. The priest should understand that and echo St John the Baptist–pointing to Jesus and saying, “He must increase and I must decrease.”
Likewise, to kiss the pope’s ring is not to honor that man, but to honor St Peter, whose successor he is.
Is it possible that the Pope does not understand that the people who wish to kiss his ring wish to honor St Peter and not him? If he does not, then it would seem that he has not learned one of the basic lessons that every priest should learn–that it’s not all about him.