What a letdown.

After nearly a week of theological speculation about “Ring-gate,” the Vatican says the pope’s reluctance to let people kiss his ring after a Mass in the Italian town of Loreto was due to a fear of spreading germs, as opposed to him dramatically ending a longstanding practice in papal protocol.

A 1’19” clip of Pope Francis yanking his hand away from people trying to kiss his ring went viral on Monday, overshadowing the official reason for the trip, which was to sign the upcoming document about last October’s Vatican bishops’ summit on young people.

The Associated Press, Reuters, the BBC, and Washington Post were among those covering the story – first of all, by explaining the practice to non-Catholics (“The traditional act of kissing of the ring — which in the Catholic tradition is worn by bishops, cardinals and the pope — has historically symbolized respect for the office,” Crux’s Christopher White writes in the Post.)

The clip reached peak virality when it was turned into a faux-video game by Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

The Loreto video clip was first released on a Twitter account known to be critical of this pontificate and spread by conservative websites, usually to paint Francis in a bad light.

Perhaps this is why several big names immediately came out in defense of the pope, imputing a higher significance to the papal ring pullbacks.

Austen Ivereigh said on Twitter: “No one is made to feel bad. He greets them warmly, as human beings. He’s making sure that they engage with him, not treat him like a sacred relic. He’s the Vicar of Christ, not a Roman emperor.”

Writing in the The Tablet, the English magazine’s Vatican correspondent Christopher Lamb notes Francis “has repeatedly called for Church leaders to maintain a ‘closeness’ to its people, and for the world to develop a culture of ‘encounter’ – the ring kissing exercise places a barrier to both.”

“While it is no doubt sincerely intended by those who do it, kissing the ring creates a certain distance and cuts off any chance of talking to the Pope or engaging with him. While defenders of the practice say they are showing respect to the Pontificate, the reality is that it has become a way of reverencing an ‘idea’ of the papacy that is remote and ossified in the past,” Lamb writes.

In other words, the pope was doing away with a longstanding papal custom with a literal wave of the hand.

(This collective defense of Francis’s actions with extended theological explanations about its significance caused one Vatican employee to quip to me that at least kissing the papal posterior will never go out of fashion, although I might be paraphrasing.)

Of course, all arguments that the pope was laying down a marker on kissing the papal ring – a practice also disapproved of by John Paul II and Benedict XVI – were undermined by the full video, which showed the pope not seeming to mind people kissing his ring at the beginning of the reception line, or the photos of Sister Maria Concetta Esu, a missionary in Africa, kissing the pope’s ring at the general audience on Wednesday.

RELATED: Pope allows ring kissing after earlier pulling hand away

On Thursday, Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said he spoke to Francis about the incident, and the pope told him he “wants to avoid the risk of contagion for the people, not for him.”

Of course, there are likely other factors than hygiene at play.

The practice of kissing a prelate’s ring is still standard in Italy, especially if the prelate is the pope – in fact, the short meeting (and it is short, just 3-5 seconds) with a pope after an event is called the baciamano, or “kiss on the hand.”

For Italians, when you have your one shot at greeting the pope, it almost doesn’t count if you don’t kiss his ring.

Sometimes, such as in Loreto, this means people get a bit aggressive when approaching the pope’s hand. Francis is 82-years-old and probably didn’t appreciate being forcefully yanked at repeatedly. The hand pullbacks only started after he had begun greeting the laity – priests and religious met the pope first and had no problems kissing the ring. (This isn’t clericalism, just an acknowledgement of the fact that members of the clergy and religious know how to properly kiss a prelate’s ring without injuring him.)

Usually, there is a Vatican official at these events who can read a pontiff’s mood, and quickly guide a person away if needed, becoming the bad cop to ensure the pope always looks like the good guy. This didn’t seem to happen in Loreto, and there is no denying that in the video making the rounds, the pope didn’t seem to be warm or to be creating a “culture of encounter.”

As for the gallons of digital ink spilled to paint the pontiff as a wrecker of tradition, or as a promoter of a demythologized papacy, too bad: The official story is the pope doesn’t want you to catch a cold.