Pope shunned ring-kissing because he did not want to spread germs, Vatican says

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 that Francis was concerned about hygiene when, after greeting throngs of well-wishers in a lengthy receiving queue in Loreto on Monday, he began pulling his hand away to discourage people from kissing his ring and spreading germs to others.

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Pope Francis visits The Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A yellow and green jersey is thrown to the Pope Francis as he waves to the faithful during a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Pope Francis reacts during a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Pope Francis visits The Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Pope Francis visits The Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Pope Francis blesses a child during a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
Pope Francis waves to the faithful during a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
Pope Francis kisses a baby during a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
Pope Francis visits The Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Pope Francis visits The Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Pope Francis visits The Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Pope Francis visits The Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Pope Francis waves during a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
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Video of the incident went viral, with conservative critics blasting what they said was Francis' disrespect for the tradition.

Mr Gisotti said it was nothing of the sort.

He noted that Francis is more than happy to receive the greeting in small groups, as he did on Wednesday when plenty of people kissed his ring during his general audience.

Mr Gisotti said he had just spoken to the pope about it.

"The Holy Father told me that the motivation was very simple: hygiene," Mr Gisotti told reporters.

Vatican Youth
Pope Francis greets the faithful upon his arrival at Loreto's cathedral (Sandro Perozzi/AP)

"He wants to avoid the risk of contagion for the people, not for him."

The tradition of kissing the ring of a bishop or pope goes back centuries, as a sign of respect and obedience.

"You all know that he has a great joy in meeting and embracing people, and being embraced by them," Mr Gisotti said.

Francis is known for gleefully embracing babies given to him to kiss and, germs be damned, sipping from mate gourds offered to him by strangers when he is out and about on his popemobile.

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