Pope Francis has been the focus of outrage this week after slapping a woman who grabbed him — thereby, if my interpretation of Canon Law is correct, infallibly granting all Catholics the moral right to smack whomever we please. As a Catholic and a longtime critic of Pope Francis, I’m thrilled that he finally did something I can support. Though he issued an unfortunate apology, thus losing most of the goodwill he’d accrued in my eyes, the Slap Heard Round The World was nonetheless justified.
The media has of course given the most sensationalist framing it could to the incident. The New York Times may win the prize this time, declaring that Francis had “slapped away a clinging pilgrim.” This brings to mind images of a dusty traveler in tattered clothing getting chucked into the street as she tries to greet the Pope after a long journey on a holy pilgrimage. CNN implied that Francis had committed “violence against women,” which makes it sound like he flew into a blind rage and pummeled an innocent onlooker.
The video shows something else entirely. Francis warmly greeted a long line of people, but as he tried to walk away, the woman grabbed him, yanked his arm, pulled him toward her, and wouldn’t let go even as he tried three times to escape her grasp. It was only after the tug-of-war that the Pope delivered a few righteous swats.
Most people seem to be traumatized by the “violence” on display in the footage, but she’s actually quite lucky to have gotten away with a literal slap on the wrist. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought that grabbing the Pope and trying to drag him around by his arm would end with you getting dog-piled by security. Apparently the Pope’s security prefers to let him fight his own battles, which is unusual for high ranking dignitaries. Try that move with the President of the United States, for example, and I have no doubt that a Secret Service gang tackle would be just the beginning of the response.
But putting his office and stature to the side, it seems fairly uncontroversial that you don’t try to gain an audience with anyone — Pope, president, or peon — by grabbing their arm and pulling them. You aren’t entitled to another person’s attention, and putting your hands on them is not an appropriate way to get it. The woman earned the response she received. And it’s not so bad, when you think about it. Not many people on Earth can say they’ve been in a scuffle with the Pope. That’s a conversational icebreaker that will top almost anyone.