The bizarre ring-kissing controversy

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Mar 28, 2019

A few quick comments on the Papal Controversy of the Week: the odd refusal to allow people to kiss his ring:

First, understand that Pope Francis often does allow people to kiss his ring. The video captured during his trip to Loreto went viral in large part because it was unusual, in several respects. Like many bishops, the Pope is not altogether comfortable with the ring-kissing tradition. But he has not set a policy against it. As an anonymous aide said, “Sometimes he likes it, sometimes he does not.”

But some observers have argued that the faithful have a right to kiss the papal ring, and consequently the Pontiff has a duty to allow it. Can this venerable custom depend on the Pope’s changing moods? If the Pope can decide that ring-kissing is appropriate at some times, and inappropriate at others, solely based on his whim, he is definitely not displaying humility.

Another anonymous aide has said that the Pope decided not to allow ring-kissing in Loreto because he was afraid of spreading germs. (It is not clear why this concern would have arisen on this particular day, in this particular place.) But if there were a genuine reason for concern about hygiene— a flu epidemic, say— aides could politely explain the situation to the faithful, asking them to forego the traditional kiss. Similarly if the Pope had a physical problem such as a bruised hand, a quiet announcement would be sufficient; everyone would understand.

In Loreto, however, it was quite evident that the faithful had not been told of the Pope’s preferences. One after another approached, bowed to kiss his ring, and was left in the lurch as the Pope jerked his hand away. The Pope’s movements were not subtle; he almost seemed to be playing the sort of “gotcha” game the young children enjoy. In some of the headlines that I saw, the sequence was described as “awkward,” “cringeworthy,” and “bizarre.”

“Sometimes he likes it, sometimes he does not.” And sometimes even a loving father might grow tired of his toddler’s sloppy kisses. But a loving father would not humiliate his child.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Apr. 01, 2019 12:56 AM ET USA

    I understand that the unedited version of the video shows him allowing some to kiss the ring. In a way, however, this makes the incident even more confusing. Why some and not others? Is he worried about spreading germs at one moment and not worried five minutes later? Like so much in this Pontificate, it’s hard to make sense of it.

  • Posted by: mclom - Mar. 30, 2019 5:29 PM ET USA

    This was embarrassing in the extreme to watch, embarrassment for Pope Francis' unbelievable rudeness; I could not bear the thought of it being witnessed around the world. I felt humiliated too, on behalf of those poor pilgrims at Loreto, a sense that I was being mocked personally because had I been there I would have wanted the opportunity to venerate the Papal ring. Dr. Taylor Marshall and Prof. Tim Gordon gave a good podcast on the incident. I learned much I had not known about the tradition

  • Posted by: koinonia - Mar. 28, 2019 3:15 PM ET USA

    Really a bizarre video. The Pope's indifferent attendant nearby, his facial expression, the unsettling urgency in " jerking his hand away", the unrewarded piety of the guests and simultaneously unfazed and uninterrupted procession of merciless futility... Can't say I've ever seen anything quite like it. If the goal was no ring-kissing, could not the ring hand simply been removed from contention, placed behind his back and kept there?