Did Pope Francis need to apologize for this at all? Perhaps, but let’s just say that this exchange warranted mutual apologies at best. A viral clip from St. Peter’s Square showed the normally beatific pontiff lose his temper as an admirer in the crowd grabbed at him and yanked him backwards, apparently unhappy that he had skipped her in the greeting line:
As one can see, the startled pontiff reacted angrily, losing his temper and slapping her hand in order to retrieve his own. Today before the traditional Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis apologized for his behavior, and dedicated his message today to fighting violence against women:
Pope Francis apologized Wednesday for his widely-viewed slap of a woman who had grabbed his hand as he greeted Catholic faithful on New Year’s Eve. The image of Francis slapping his way free from the clutches of the admirer was an instant hit on social media.
A personal apology followed. “We lose patience many times,” Francis confessed.
“It happens to me too. I apologise for the bad example given yesterday,” the head of the Catholic church said before celebrating Mass at the Vatican.
Fair enough, I suppose, especially for the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. There is a Gospel admonition about turning the other cheek, after all, and that doesn’t involve slapping the slapping hand afterward. As Catholics and Christians, we are called to return injury with love and patience rather than physical rebukes, especially when the injury comes from a person ostensibly carried away with Christian fervor. Francis is correct to remind us of that, and to offer his regrets for his instant reaction.
However, no one ever said popes were perfect, and Francis was hardly unprovoked. The pontiff has just turned 83 years old, and the woman nearly yanked his arm out of its socket. She then refused to release his hand even after it became pretty clear Francis was having none of it. Perhaps that was out of a sense of fervor, but those of us who have been on those lines in St. Peter’s Square have seen that fervor tends to take the form of aggression, on a level that would surprise many. I’ve seem nuns steamroll security personnel in almost the same spot. Some of the people who make it to the front of those lines — not all, but some — get there by shoving lots of people out of their way first. There is a hefty sense of entitlement among a non-insignificant percentage of these crowds, and the wonder is that stuff like this doesn’t happen more often. The Swiss Guards and the other security personnel who serve there earn their salaries.
This incident likely stunned and frightened Pope Francis, who then reacted in a way he regretted. Good for him for apologizing for the reaction, but perhaps he’s owed an apology himself for getting assaulted in the first place. And maybe we can cut an 83-year-old man a little slack for his reaction to it.