Many regard Pope Francis as the “pope of the people” for a number of reasons. His stance on many social issues is a bit more liberal than the popes that came before him. He genuinely seems to enjoy interacting with his followers.

However, one of his most important contributions to the Church is his refusal to engage in any unnecessary displays of grandeur. He famously replaced his throne with a modest, white chair. His crucifix is iron and his ring is silver, a departure from the golden items worn by Pope Benedict.

Pope Francis would prefer you not kiss his ring

The most controversial change, though, involves the Pope’s ring. The same ring others kiss to show their devotion to the teachings of the Catholic Church. A resurfaced video from 2019 shows Pope Francis hastily yanking his hand away from people kneeling down to kiss it.

At the time, people were split on how they interpreted Pope Francis’ actions. On the one hand, you had conservative Catholics accusing him of disrespecting age-old traditions. On the other, more liberal followers of the Church praised Pope Francis for making an honest attempt to balance the scales a bit and refocus on his devoted followers.

People speculated for quite some time on why Pope Francis felt it necessary to disallow people from kissing his ring. Most of the theories make sense and the Pope himself had something to say about it, too.

Why does he refuse to let certain people show their devotion?

The whole ring controversy sprouted from a 57-second clip of Pope Francis repeatedly pulling his hand away from people trying to kiss the ring. Check out the clip right here:

Here’s the thing. This is one minute of a 10-minute video where literally hundreds of people approached Pope Francis to kneel before him and kiss the ring. For many of those people, he did not pull his hand away. But there’s an important distinction to note here.

According to a comment on Reddit, “The act of kissing the ring is a symbolic gesture that signifies the faithful’s submission to the authority of the Pope and his role as a representative of Christ on Earth.” However, Pope Francis seems to think the only people who should kiss the ring are the ones who understand what it means to do so.

A couple days after the infamous video, another video surfaced of him allowing nuns and priests to kiss the ring. So, it’s not that he doesn’t want anyone to kiss his ring. But it’s very possible he wants to reserve that privilege for those who dedicate their every waking moment to the Church.

But it might also just be hygiene?

An alternate theory came from a Vatican representative named Alessandro Gisotti. He reportedly spoke to Pope Francis after the incident. According to Gisotti, “The Holy Father told me that the motivation was very simple: hygiene,” he said. “He wants to avoid the risk of contagion for the people, not for him.”

It’s worth noting that very few publications ran with this version of events, focusing instead on Pope Francis’ dedication to returning the church to something more modest. But it is also interesting to note how the practice of kissing the Pope’s ring is also symbolic. Instead of kissing the ring itself, you’re supposed to kiss your own hand.

Another comment from the same Reddit thread said, “You respect him so you try to kiss his ring, he respects you so he doesn’t let you. The people he allows without pulling his hands away are making it clear to him that they’re kissing their own hands.”