Rule-Breaking Pope Washes and Kisses Lady-Feet, Scandalizing the Prayerful

The newly minted Pope washed the feet of two women today, including them in an Easter rite that the church he leads has previously insisted is reserved for men, because that's just how God rolls.

Traditionally, the Pope selects twelve lucky men whose feet he washes and kisses on the Thursday before Easter, like Jesus is said to have washed and kissed the feet of his apostles. And since those apostles were all men, women have traditionally been barred from being on the ritual's receiving end.

But priests and bishops also perform the foot-washing, and some of them like to wash and kiss ladies' feet! Whether or not that's appropriate has been a matter of no little controversy in the church, leading the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Vatican body that handles the liturgical practices of the Latin Catholic Church, to declare Holy Thursday a day on which only male feet may be washed and kissed by male priests.

According to a letter from the Congregation posted on the blog of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, the gesture is limited to men:

"the washing of feet is reserved to 'chosen men' (viri selecti), that is male persons."

The proprietor of the Catholic Liturgical Library agrees: "Only men may have their feet washed on Holy Thursday."

The Pope evidently likes living on the edge, because according to the Guardian, four of the 24 feet he washed and kissed today at Rome's Casal del Marmo youth prison belonged to women. It's the first time a pope has ever washed and kissed the feet of young prisoners, let alone female prisoners.

What's more: two of sets of feet belonged to Muslim inmates.

[The Guardian, image via Getty]