After a video went viral this week showing the Holy Father refusing to let pilgrims kiss his ring, the Vatican explained Pope Francis pulled his hand away as a “simple matter of hygiene.”

The viral video was taken when Pope Francis was meeting pilgrims after celebrating Mass in the Holy House at Loreto on Monday. The clip shows the Holy Father appearing to pull his hand away each time a person approaches him and kneels to kiss the Fisherman’s Ring.

A full video later released by Vatican Media shows Pope Francis receiving pilgrims for over 13 minutes, and in the earlier part of the greeting line people were allowed to kiss his ring without protest.

Some were quick call Pope Francis’s actions disrespectful or “disturbing.” However, Vatican spokesman Alexandro Gisotti said that was not the case.

“The Holy Father told me that the motivation was very simple: hygiene. He wants to avoid the risk of contagion for the people, not for him.”

Gisotti said that in small groups, Pope Francis is more than happy to let others kiss his ring.

“You all know that he has a great joy in meeting and embracing people, and being embraced by them.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Saint John Paul II both at times elected not to allow the Faithful to kiss their ring. Pope Francis, according to Reuter, “sometimes [he] likes it, sometimes he does not. It’s really as simple as that.”

Watch below a segment of the viral video:



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