Pope Francis slapped a woman on the hand after she grabbed him during a New Year’s appearance in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday evening.
Cameras captured the scene when the woman, from behind a barrier, reached out and grabbed the pope’s hand, pulling him violently toward her. Francis reacted sharply, exclaimed something and then slapped her hand so she would let him go. Frowning in anger, he turned and strode away.
The 83-year-old leader of the world’s approximately 1.2 billion Catholics appeared angry as he swatted at the woman’s hand, prompting worldwide news coverage and a plethora of snarky comments on social media.
In his new year’s wishes to the public in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, Francis confessed to losing his patience with the woman while he was strolling in the square to admire the Vatican’s Nativity scene.
In his impromptu remarks, Francis said, “So many times we lose patience. Me, too.” He then added, “I say ‘excuse me’ for the bad example” he set in the incident Tuesday.
Earlier on Wednesday, in his homily during Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis decried violence against women, saying that it was like profaning God.
Francis lamented the “many times women’s bodies are sacrificed on the profane altar of advertisements, of profit, of pornography,” and said that while women are, in his words, “the sources of life,” they are “continually offended, beaten, raped, forced into prostitution” or forced to have abortions.
Francis praised women as “donors and mediators of peace,” and urged that they should become ”fully associated” with decision-making in order to make the world more united and at peace. “A conquest for women is a conquest for the whole of humanity,” he said.
Last year, the pope made waves in Catholic circles after a video showing him jerking his hand away from Catholics seeking to kiss his ring made its way online.
During a March visit to Loreto, a major Italian pilgrimage site, Francis received a long line of faithful, some of whom shook his hand, while others kissed his hand or bowed down in a gesture of reverence. He only began pulling his hand away after having greeted a large number of people.
Those coming to his defense noted that he still had to greet sick people and lead a prayer and a Vatican spokesman later explained that his refusal to allow people to kiss his ring was “a simple question of hygiene.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.