Church Traditionalists Livid at Pope Foot-Wash

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 30 2013 3:45 PM

Church Traditionalists Livid at Pope for Washing Feet of Two Girls on Holy Thursday

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Pope Francis washes the feet of a prisoner at the Casal Del Marmo Youth Detention Centre in Rome

Photo by Servizio Fotografico L'Osservatore Romano via Getty Images

In the short time since Pope Francis became leader of the Catholic Church, his every move has been scrutinized for signs of what his plans could be for his rule. And while his focus on austerity and the world’s poor has excited many who thought the Church was too out of touch with reality, traditionalist Catholics have been devastated. Francis’ decision to wash the feet of two girls, including a Muslim, during a traditional Holy Thursday ritual “has become something of the final straw,” writes the Associated Press. For traditionalists, it was a clear sign that Francis has no intention of continuing Benedict XVI's efforts to roll back reforms that were brought in after Vatican II.

The Thursday incident is seen as particularly serious because Francis flouted Church law when he washed the feet of the two girls. The traditional foot-washing ceremony reenacts the way Jesus washed the feet of his 12 apostles during the Last Supper, and the Church has long said women can’t participate because the apostles were all men. Some were quick to question whether the move could be seen as the first step in opening up the Church to women’s ordination, although the Vatican has cautioned against reading too much into every little move. Yet there is no getting around the fact that until Francis, no pope had ever washed the feet of a woman, or a Muslim for that matter, on Holy Thursday, notes the Wall Street Journal.

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The pope washed the feet of two Muslim teenagers Thursday—a boy and a girl—in a move that observers quickly said could mark the beginning of an openness toward the Muslim world that could change how the Vatican is perceived, points out the AFP.

Just how much Francis plans to change in the Vatican should start becoming clearer after Easter Sunday, when he will begin naming top officials.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.