Just hours before his traditional New Year's Day homily at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, in which he condemned "every form of violence" against women, Pope Francis was purportedly caught on video slapping the hand of a woman in St. Peter's Square and shouting at her.
The incident reportedly occurred as the pope was shaking hands with well-wishers, but turned to his left and looked away before reaching the woman, who had just made the sign of the cross. She then reached across the barrier separating the pope from the crowd and grabbed his arm, according to a Reuters account.
The as-yet unidentified woman supposedly forcefully pulled the 83-year-old pope toward her. He responded with startled anger, appearing to shout at her, then sharply striking her twice on the hand to free himself from her grip. With an unhappy facial expression, the pope then strode away from the well-wisher, as seen in the video below on this page.
Hours later, when the pope delivered his annual New Year's address, he made the mistreatment of women the focus of his remarks.
"Every form of violence inflicted upon a woman is a blasphemy against God, who was born of a woman," Pope Francis said in the speech, as quoted by CNN, saying that though women are "the sources of life," they are nonetheless, "continually insulted, beaten, raped, [and] forced to prostitute themselves.""How often is a woman's body sacrificed on the profane altar of advertising, profit, [and] pornography," the pope said, as quoted by Reuters.
He also said that "we can understand our level of humanity" by how women's bodies are treated. But Pope Francis appeared to then diverge from his prepared remarks, to acknowledge the slapping incident from the previous evening.
"So many times we lose patience. Me too," the pope said. "I say 'excuse me' for the bad example."
The pope, however, was involved in another controversy earlier this year over well-wishers making contact with his hands. In a viral video, reported by USA Today, the pontiff was seen greeting Catholic worshippers who attempted to bend down and kiss his papal ring, as is traditional when greeting a pope.
But as the video showed, Pope Francis forcefully pulled his right hand away from the worshippers. After criticism from conservative Catholics, however, he relented and was later shown on video allowing a series of nuns and priests to kiss his ring.
Even from inside the church there have been suggestions that the avuncular public persona projected by Pope Francis is at odds with the private man. In an interview with a German magazine last year, a cardinal — who remained unidentified — blasted Pope Francis as an "ice-cold, cunning Machiavellian liar."
The anonymous cardinal condemned the pope in the interview for the way he has responded to allegations of widespread child abuse by Catholic priests.