When Pope Francis visited a Catholic shrine in the Italian town of Loreto on Monday, he withdrew his right hand several times when people tried to greet him by kissing his ring.
A video of the incident went viral, sparking a debate between conservatives and progressives in the Catholic Church over the long-standing papal tradition. The pope met a long line of people, greeting them individually as they walked up to him. According to ABC News Australia, the pope only began pulling is hand away 10 minutes into the interactions, maybe to speed up the process.
LifeSiteNews, a Catholic website that has remained critical of the pope on several occasions called the video “disturbing”. Rortate Caeli, a Catholic blog tweeted: “Francis, If you don’t want to be the Vicar of Christ, then get out of there!
However, papal biographer Austen Ivereigh replied that the pope was a “Vicar of Christ and not a Roman emperor.”
Medieval church history scholar Christopher Bellitto told The Washington Post that kissing the ring is not part of any formal protocol of greeting the pope, and termed the tradition a “leftover that is best left over.”
The ring is possibly the most powerful symbol of a pope’s authority and is destroyed immediately after he dies to signify the end of his reign. Reuters quoted an anonymous close aide to the pope who said, “Sometimes he likes it, sometimes he does not. It’s really as simple as that.”