Pope Francis went viral on Monday when a bizarre video emerged of him preventing Roman Catholic worshippers from kissing his ring.
The incident took place during a visit to the Holy House of Loreto, an important site of pilgrimage in Italy, with the pontiff seen repeatedly jerking his right hand away from devout followers of the faith as they bowed or stooped before him after attending Mass.
The Pope cut an awkward and neurotic figure in the clip, which left viewers around the world mystified by the apparent snub. Most people found the whole incident incredibly amusing but it caused some conservative Catholics to accuse him of being "graceless" and disrespectful, abandoning church custom and doctrine.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah had particular fun with the strange spectacle.
But now a Vatican spokesman has cleared up the matter.
The Holy Father told me that the motivation was very simple: hygiene.
Alessandro Gisotti said the pontiff was concerned about the spread of germs along the long queue of people waiting to meet him.
He wants to avoid the risk of contagion for the people, not for him.
“You all know that he has a great joy in meeting and embracing people, and being embraced by them,” Gisotti insisted, with the one stipulation that the Pope prefers to do so in limited numbers.
Known as the fisherman's ring, the gold-plated silver band honours the apostle Peter, a fisherman and the first pope, depicting him holding the keys to the Holy See. Each pope has their own, which is destroyed at the end of the papacy, marking the end of their tenure.
On Wednesday, he did allow nuns and a priest to kiss the ring at his weekly audience with the devout at St Peter's Square in Rome.
One was Sister Maria Concetta Esu, an 85-year-old nun and obstetrician who had delivered around 3,000 babies during her time spent working as a missionary in Central Africa over the course of a 60-year career, the Pope presenting her with a medal in honour of her service.