Pope Francis jokingly compared gossiping nuns to terrorists during a visit to Peru's capital Lima on Sunday (21 January).

On his final day in Peru, the pope addressed around 500 nuns at a church in the capital. The "contemplative" nuns, who do not leave their convent except for medical reasons, were given special permission to attend the papal audience.

"Seeing you all here an unkind thought comes to my mind, that you took advantage (of me) to get out of the convent a bit to take a stroll," the pope told his audience, who roared with laughter.

He then urged the nuns not to take up gossiping in their convents and compared spreading rumours to "terrorism".

"You know what a gossiping nun is?" he asked. "A terrorist."

"Because gossip is like a bomb. One throws it, it causes destruction and you walk away tranquilly. No terrorist nuns! No gossip, and know that the best remedy against gossip is to bite your tongue," the pope continued as the nuns roared with laughter.

He joked that gossiping nuns were worse "than the terrorists of Ayacucho," referring to the Peruvian city that was the epicentre of a communist militant group.

Although the nuns seemed to see the funny side, others were less complimentary about the pope's remarks.

The editor of a local newspaper said he thought the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal had more to do with "terrorism" than gossiping nuns.

While in South America, the pope defended a bishop who has been accused of covering up sexual abuse. He said that the victims who had accused the bishop of abuse were committing slander.

On his way back to Rome on Monday (22 January), Pope Francis apologised for his remarks.

"I apologise to them if I hurt them without realising it, but it was a wound that I inflicted without meaning to," he said, according to Reuters. "It pains me very much."

Pope Francis nuns
Nuns react as Pope Francis arrives to lead a mid-morning prayer with contemplative nuns at the Sanctuary of the Senor de los Milagros in Lima, Peru, on 21 January 2018 Osservatore Romano/Handout via REUTERS