Pope Francis condemned gossiping during an off-script complaint on Sunday. Photo: Reuters.

Pope Francis I branded gossiping "a worse plague" than coronavirus that could be used to divide the Roman Catholic Church, in an off-script complaint during his weekly blessing. "Please, brothers and sisters, let's make an effort not to gossip. Gossiping is a worse plague than Covid-19," the pope said during his weekly address from a window above St Peter's Square.

"The devil is the great gossip. He is always saying bad things about others because he is the liar who tries to split the Church," Francis added in the off-the-cuff comments.

The 266th pope has regularly warned of the risks of gossiping and has also railed against Internet trolls.

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"If something goes wrong, offer silence and prayer for the brother or sister who makes a mistake, but never gossip," the 83-year-old said on Sunday. On Friday, meanwhile, the Pope said that the pandemic had "toppled the shaky pillars" of a world economic model built on the idolatry of money and domination by the rich and powerful.

In a message to participants of the annual European House-Ambrosetti Workshop, which gathers some 200 top managers, economists, and politicians from around the world, he called for new models that would be more inclusive and reduce social inequality. He also urged "an ecological retooling" of the economy to save the environment and reduce wasteful consumption.

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"It (the pandemic) has called into question the scale of values that sets money and power over all else. It has toppled the shaky pillars that supported a certain model of development," he said, adding that social and economic uncertainties had made many people open their eyes to inequality and environmental blight.

He said economics should be the expression of a society that "refuses to sacrifice human dignity to the idols of finance (and) uses financial resources not to dominate but to serve".

Francis, who has said any eventual Covid-19 vaccine must not be hoarded by rich countries, is believed to be preparing an encyclical letter - the highest form of papal writing - on what he believes the post-pandemic world should look like.