Wednesday 27 March 2019

Kissing the Pope's ring

Yesterday the Pope pulled his hand away to prevent a series of people he was meeting from kissing is ring (his for the first time is silver gilt, not gold). This apparently happened after he allowed several people to make a gesture of kissing it while others had shaken his hand.

According to Christopher Lamb, the Vatican journalist who usually follows the papal line rather uncritically, when he met the conservative American Cardinal Burke in Rome the cardinal's press adviser greeted the cardinal by kneeling and kissing the gold ring on the ring finger of his hand. This is the traditional sign of respect given to a prince of the church but I confess that I did not know this till today.

Mr Lamb says that when he has met Pope Francis they shake hands, and the Pope 'looks slightly uncomfortable when people go down on one knee before him'.

To me this dislike of having his ring kissed is upsetting. It could even look like a sin against humility, as could the Pope's decision to live in a hostel, not the papal apartments. By living in the hostel he escape the eyes of people in the Curia whose eye he wants to escape, so people say who claim to be well informed, but the Church still pays to maintain the apartments and meanwhile the hostel has one fewer available room.

But the monarchical papacy was outdated in a fiercely egalitarian age, which distrusts tradition and authority. According to the left-wing and often very annoying Jesuit magazine 'America' it was Pope Benedict XVI who moved to abolish the practice of kissing the pope's hand. Pope John Paul I was the first pope in modern times who forewent a coronation altogether and Pope Benedict XVI removed the tiara from the papal coat of arms. For those of us who miss the lacy popes like Pope Pius XII it is sad, but it might be what the times require.

In 1963, US President John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, aroused comment by not kissing the ring of Pope Paul VI when they met. That he did not is easy to understand. American presidents do not bow to the Queen, because they are heads of state and Kennedy thought he would be fighting an election the next year, in an era when America was even more anti-Catholic than now.

During a joint visit to Jerusalem in May 2014, Pope Francis kissed the hand of the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I who tried unsuccessfully to prevent him doing so. On the same visit, Francis bowed down and kissed the hands of Holocaust survivors. 

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