By: SCCB Staff
Philadelphia, United States - Pope Francis' historic visit to the US has ended, leaving behind a lot of memories and consolation for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. But none has been considered more remarkable than when he got out of his car to hug a priest.
"It was right out of the Bible," said self-described Bible-believing Christian, Todd Petersen. "Was he getting out to go kiss a baby dressed up like the pope? No. Was he going to hug a homeless man, a severely crippled person? No. A priest! I was like, should he even do that?"
Judging from the video recording of the event, when the pope had his car stop and got out, people assumed that he was going for the baby all dressed in the mitre and other baby-sized papal regalia. Indeed, the priest in question, Fr. Antony Refuse, moved away from the baby to give the pope room. After acknowledging the baby, the Holy Father called the priest over. Fr. Antony looked around for a moment, apparently convinced that the pope was speaking to someone else.
"It was then that the Holy Father gave me a big bear hug," he said, beaming. "The people around me were astonished, and you can see that in the video. I even heard a few people say things like 'unclean' and 'a friend of sinners'"
Richard Elmsworth, a close friend of Fr. Refuse, told SCCB that the encounter with the pope could not have come at a better time for the priest. "Father was clearly at a low-ebb in his ministry," he said. "No one in the parish goes to confession, attendance at the parish mission was very low, he had been in trouble with parents and the bishop for preaching too much about sin and especially about his rules about baptism, marriage and confirmation. I'm not sure, but I even think he was considering leaving the parish to join the Companions of the Cross or Madonna House. He was like a man totally without support."
But not everyone shares Elmworth's view of the extraordinary event. A representative of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Howard Yapper, said that the event shows how hollow were the pope's signs of sympathy for victims of priestly abuse.
"We all know that one-hundred percent of priests are abusers one-hundred percent of the time," Yapper said. "I bet he even abused the pope during that hug. In fact, yes, he did. I saw it."