Bishop of Kerry Bill Murphy has admitted that he felt "embarrassed" when he knelt down to kiss the papal ring in Rome.

Murphy said the first time he met the pope he was greeted with a handshake, and added that he was surprised that he and his fellow bishops were requested to bow down and kiss the Pope’s papal ring.

"When it came to my turn, the person before me did it and I kissed his (the Pope's) ring as well, even though I was rather embarrassed by it," said Murphy.

Murphy was part of the delegation Irish bishops that met the pope several weeks ago, to discuss the extensive level of clerical child abuse in Ireland.

Murphy criticized the custom. "Some people still try to kiss a bishop's ring but, obviously, it's out of touch with modern thinking,"

Kissing the papal ring is traditionally viewed as a sign of respect for the Pope and the Vatican.

Director of Catholic Communications Martin Long declined to comment on Murphy's comments, which he believes were made "in a personal capacity."

Murphy said the meeting with the Pope was "very serious and significant" and denied claims from victims of clerical abuse that it was a staged attempt to claim back some credibility.

However, Murphy did say that the Vatican may have had "exaggerated and unrealistic expectations" of public opinion.

The papal ring features an image of St Peter fishing from a boat. It is made of cast gold and bears the name of the Pope in Latin.

When the Pontiff dies, the "Ring of the Fisherman" is crushed using a silver hammer in front of cardinals.