Pope Francis greeted the faithful at St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday and allowed nuns and priests to kiss his papal ring during his weekly audience without a hitch, a likely relief to a Vatican encountering sharp criticism this week.
The Vatican came under fire from some Roman Catholics after images showed Francis repeatedly pulling his hand away from worshipers who leaned down to kiss his papal ring Monday in Loreto, Italy. In addition, the all-female staff of the Vatican’s women’s magazine resigned, alleging editorial interference from their male boss.
Some Catholics said the so-called baciamano is a sign of respect paid by the faithful to the church, not only the pope.
“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?” priest Dwight Longenecker, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, S.C., wrote on his blog. “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.”
Reactions posted on the conservative Catholic website Lifesite News went so far as to describe Francis’ behavior as “demonic” and “mentally unhinged.” Some Catholics are already angered by Francis’ mercy-before-dogma papacy and his push to allow divorced and civilly remarried divorcees receive Communion.
The Vatican did not comment on the images of the pope in Loreto.
Austen Ivereigh, who has written a biography of the pope, said the pontiff disliked the air of deference about the ring kissing gesture.
“The kiss is part of the monarchical trappings of the papacy Francis is keen to abandon, just as Pope Paul VI dropped the three-decker tiara and John Paul II halted the practice of being carried around on a papal throne in favor of the popemobile,” he said in an interview.
“He has stopped people kissing his ring before, but this time he did it consistently,” Ivereigh said. “He sees these meetings as an encounter, not an act of obedience to a king.”
Rich Raho, a priest who teaches at St. Patrick High School in Chicago, tweeted, “He prefers people not kiss his ring, he would rather kiss their feet.”
The papal ring, known as the Ring of the Fisherman, is traditionally destroyed when a pope dies, and a new one is made for his successor. Francis' ring shows an image of St. Peter holding two keys, one representing power in heaven and the other the spiritual authority of the papacy on earth.
The resignations involving the women’s magazine staff occurred Tuesday.
"Women Church World,” which is published alongside the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano, has lifted the lid on scandals within the church, including the cases of bishops and cardinals who compel nuns to cook and clean for them for little or no pay.
Last month, the publication exposed the sexual abuse by priests of nuns who are forced to have abortions or give birth to children who are not recognized by their fathers. The article said nuns have kept silent about the abuse for years out of fear of retribution.
Francis acknowledged the abuse when asked about it last month, saying, “I cannot say no, in my house we don’t have this problem.”
Lucetta Scaraffia, who founded the women’s publication in 2012, said a newly appointed editor at L’Osservatore Romano, Andrea Monda, who took over in December, had tried to assume editorship at the magazine as well.
He had retreated when the staff threatened to resign, but then added new female writers to tone down the coverage, said Scaraffia.
"We are throwing in the towel because we feel surrounded by a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimization," Scaraffia wrote in an open letter to Francis, who has often called for a greater role for women at the Vatican.
In its final editorial for the magazine, which has yet to be published, the staff said Monda was “pitting women against one another.”
Monda denied the accusation, saying in a statement that he had merely suggested topics and contributors.
In her letter, Scaraffia said there was a “return to the antiquated and arid custom of choosing women considered trustworthy from on-high, under the direct control of men.”
Francis has countered arguments that women are underrepresented in the church by claiming, “The church is a woman.”
But Scaraffia told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Wednesday that was not good enough.
“It’s beautiful, but it is a way to turn us into a metaphor. We want to be listened to, contradicted, debated with, as would be the case with men, rather than becoming a metaphor.”