Pope Francis compared gossiping nuns with terrorists during his South American tour stop in Lima on Sunday.
The pope took a moderate tone, and the nuns he was addressing laughed as he spoke. But the pontiff was serious about his message, and has referred to gossip as terrorism a number of times in the past. It appeared to be the first time, however, that he has called people who gossip terrorists.
“Do you know what a nun who gossips is?” the pope asked as he spoke to 500 cloistered nuns at the historic Church of the Nazarenas.
“A terrorist,” he answered. “Because gossip is like a bomb. One throws it, it causes destruction and one calmly walks away.”
He added: “No terrorist sisters! The best remedy is to bite your tongue. Don’t gossip in the convent because that will inspire the devil.”
Francis also said that gossiping nuns were worse than the “terrorists of Ayacucho,” again drawing laughter. The Maoist Shining Path guerrillas centered at Ayacucho in the 1980s and 1990s were linked to the killing and disappearance of tens of thousands of Peruvians.
The comments drew criticism from a newspaper editor, who said sex abuse by Catholic priests seemed more akin to terrorism than gossip, Reuters reported.
The cloistered nuns were a strange group to receive such a warning. They rarely speak to one another and usually spend their days in prayer as part of their religious devotion. They were granted special permission to leave their various convents to attend the event.
At the beginning of his address, Francis joked: “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 has often compared gossip to terrorism and urged those who were tempted to gossip to “bite your tongue,” as he did last month during a visit to Bangladesh.
Later in the day, Francis said Mass for some 1.3 million people in a tented airfield in Lima. He condemned “the grave sin” of corruption, The Associated Press reported, and urged Peruvians to have compassion. He also told them they lived in a “sainted” land and hailed young people for keeping their faith, per The New York Times.
He didn’t mention victims of clergy sex abuse.
The pope’s South American tour did not get off to a good beginning in Chile. There he apologized for the pain suffered by victims of clergy sex abuse. But he later accused victims of notorious pedophile priest Fernando Karadima of slander for accusing Bishop Juan Barros of protecting Karadima.
The Vatican has long defended and embraced Barros. While in Chile, the pope said there was no proof that Barras had any culpability in Karadima’s crimes.
Many Chileans were furious with the pope and some critics said such comments would make it less likely for victims to speak up. One banner hanging from a building on the pope’s route to mass in Lima read: “Francis, here there IS proof.”
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.