(VATICAN CITY) — Pope Francis has set the record straight about why he pulled his hand away when throngs of people lined up this week to kiss his ring: for fear of spreading germs.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said Thursday that Francis was concerned about hygiene when, after greeting dozens of well-wishers in a lengthy receiving line Monday in Loreto, he began pulling his hand away to discourage people from kissing his ring.

Video of the incident went viral, with conservative critics blasting what they said was Francis’ “graceless” disrespect for the tradition and the faithful who wanted to honor it.

Gisotti said Thursday he had just spoken to the pope about it, and Francis replied that it was nothing of the sort.

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