The infamous 'pope slap'

Francis’ apology for ‘pope slap’ hailed as “immaculate blueprint for saying sorry”

Francis’ apology for the infamous ‘pope slap’ on New Year’s Eve is being hailed as “an immaculate blueprint for saying sorry”.

Driving the news

On New Year’s Eve, a lapse in the Pope’s security meant that while greeting pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, a woman grabbed the pontiff and wouldn’t let go, forcing Francis himself to shake her off with a gentle slap.

The Pope apologised for the incident at the Angelus prayer on New Year’s Day, saying: The patience of love: love makes us patient. Many times we lose patience; me too, and I apologise for yesterday’s bad example”.

Go deeper

The Pope’s swift (“less than 24 hours after”) and unequivocal (far from a “glib, legally watertight statement”) apology for the slap led leading British newspaper The Guardian to call it “an immaculate blueprint for saying sorry”.

“Sorry doesn’t have to be the hardest word, as Pope Francis proved after slapping the hand of a woman who grabbed him”, the newspaper subtitled a column January 4.

Francis’ words of apology “contained no attempt to excuse or diminish the wrongdoing. He merely acknowledged his human fallibility”, the paper observed.

That was in sharp contrast to other public (non-)apologies in recent years, The Guardian said, such as Prince Andrew’s admission only that he had “conducted himself in a manner unbecoming” with pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, or British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to apologise for anti-Semitism in his party.

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“If the 2010s were a string of crap sorries, here’s hoping the pope has set the precedent for a new decade where public apologies are heartfelt, not laughably hollow”, The Guardian concluded.

Why it matters

But The Guardian’s lauding of the pope’s apology was not the only praise of the pontiff forthcoming, despite the memes that quickly appeared on social media and the field day ultraconservatives had by contrasting the Pope’s apparent violence against the woman who grabbed and his words, also on New Year’s Day, that “every form of violence inflicted upon a woman is a blasphemy against God”.

“Here [the Pope] just lost his patience, also for the very human perception of being dragged on the ground”, close papal advisor Antonio Spadaro SJ wrote.

But “if this reveals the humanity of a person like Francis, who is exposed and reacts like any of us would have done, in reality what strikes me is something else”, Spadaro admitted. “The Pope apologized”.

“The Pope who reacts by getting angry and who apologizes to everyone for not having given a good example helps me to understand what Christian life is made up of every day. And these are its big little challenges”, Spadaro wrote.

For the record

As veteran Vaticanist John Allen summed it up in Crux:

“Public figures often find themselves apologizing for one thing or another, and often their mea culpas don’t have much effect. They come off as formulaic and insincere, more an exercise in damage control than genuine contrition.

“Francis, however, got a fair bit of credit for his insta-apology on New Year’s, seeming gracious and pastoral. The reaction illustrates one of the fixed laws of the universe when it comes to such matters.

“To wit: ‘The effectiveness of an apology varies in direct proportion to whether most people believe you actually have anything to apologize for’.

“Honestly, people watching the scene play out probably came away thinking that if anybody needed to apologize, it was the grasping woman rather than the pope. After all, this was an octogenarian who suffers from sciatica we’re talking about, whose hand was being yanked by someone who clearly didn’t understand when it was time to let go”.

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