"The pope told me the reason he did not allow people to kiss his ring was because of hygiene."
Pope Francis tries to stop people kissing his ring because he fears it could spread germs, the Vatican said Thursday in response to a viral video showing the Argentinian repeatedly withdrawing his hand from worshippers.
The incident was captured Monday during a visit to the Italian hill town of Loreto where the 82-year-old greeted dozens of parishioners.
While some simply bowed their head and shook his hand, others leaned forward to kiss his ring.
The smiling pope can be seen pulling back his hand repeatedly.
"The pope told me the reason he did not allow people to kiss his ring was because of hygiene... to avoid contagion when there are long queues of people," Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said Thursday.
"Personally, he likes to embrace people."
The video was shared online and had gained more than 11 million views on the Twitter social media platform by Thursday afternoon.
The scene in Loreto drew criticism from conservative Catholic observers who also frequently attack the pope over what they consider his too liberal approach to social issues.
However, it has since emerged that the video was only a short version of a longer clip, which shows the pontiff patiently letting people kiss his ring at first before the queues grew longer.
Nonetheless, the incident has sparked a public debate over decorum during a papal meet and greet.
The Vatican advises worshippers not to bend the knee in front of Francis who is said not to appreciate the practice.