THE VATICAN - Pope Francis today compared having an abortion to hiring a 'contract killer'.
'Interrupting a pregnancy is like eliminating someone... getting rid of a human being is like resorting to a contract killer to solve a problem,' Francis said in an address to worshippers in the Vatican.
His comments departed from the prepared text for his homily delivered during his weekly audience on Saint Peter's Square.
In his address, the Argentine pontiff complained of a 'depreciation of human life'.
He cited wars, exploitation and what he called a culture of wastefulness, as well as abortion.
'How can an act that suppresses innocent life be therapeutic, civil or even human?' he asked.
Francis this year opposed a bill that would have legalized abortion in Argentina.
In August a lay campaign group said thousands of Argentine Catholics had renounced their membership of the church to protest against his opposition to the bill.
It comes after Francis said the devil is working to undermine the Roman Catholic Church.
He said that Satan is to blame for the sexual abuse crisis and has asked Catholics around the world to recite a special prayer every day in October to try to beat him back.
'(The Church must be) saved from the attacks of the malign one, the great accuser and at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes, and abuses committed in the present and the past,' Francis said in a message on September 29.
Since he was elected in 2013, Francis has made clear that he believes the devil to be real. In a document in April on holiness in the modern world, Francis mentioned the devil more than a dozen times.
'We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable,' he wrote in the document.
The Church has recently been hit by one sexual abuse scandal after another, from Germany, to the United States, to Chile. At the same time, a deepening polarisation between conservatives and liberals in the Church has played out on social media.
Francis' use of the term 'the great accuser' to describe Satan hit a raw nerve with one of the pope's harshest conservative critics, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Vatican's former ambassador to Washington.
In an 11-page statement published on August 26, Viganò launched an unprecedented broadside by a Church insider against the pope and a long list of Vatican and US Church officials.
He accused Francis of knowing about sexual misconduct by a former US cardinal with male adult seminarians but not doing anything about it.(FA)