Pope Francis has apologised for slapping the hand of a woman who reached out and grabbed him on New Year’s Eve. Film of the incident went viral.
The Pope was greeting people in the crowd on his way to the Nativity scene in St Peter’s Square when a woman reached out and pulled his arm, jerking him off balance. Francis, clearly annoyed, slapped her hand twice.
The next day he said: “We often lose our patience; me too, and I apologise for my bad example last night.”
What the media are saying
The reaction in the press was divided between those who claimed to be appalled by the Pope’s apparently angry behaviour, and those who thought it was a perfectly understandable reaction for an 83-year-old man suddenly pulled off balance.
Pope Francis is known to suffer from sciatica. Several newspapers quoted the Vatican: “As he greeted the faithful, a woman tugged his arm, causing a shooting pain to which the Pope reacted with an impatient gesture to free himself from her grip.”
America magazine wrote: “Two days later what the unhappy encounter had to say about the ‘real’ Pope Francis – revealed finally as a sour hypocrite or merely an actual human being who can be startled into anger – remained hotly disputed on social media.”
But most comment was sympathetic. In a CNN discussion Vatican analyst John Allen said: “A woman reached out and grabbed his hand and just wouldn’t let go and, frankly, the Pope kind of lost it.”
He continued: “Look, he’s an 83-year-old human being.” Matt Walsh wrote on Twitter: “If you grab someone and yank them towards you like that, you deserve to get your hand smacked away.
The people scolding Pope Francis for this are being ridiculous.” He suggested that as the Pope was infallible, “we now have moral licence to slap whoever we want”, causing a reaction from followers who didn’t realise he was being sarcastic.
The Washington Post praised Francis for his apology which “came quickly and without condition”, while Channel News Asia asked: “Where was the pontiff’s security detail?”
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