Pope Francis delivers his message in the Paul VI hall. File picture: Gregorio Borgia/AP Photo.

Vatican City - Pope Francis on Wednesday compared having an abortion to hiring a "contract killer".

"Interrupting a pregnancy is like eliminating someone," Francis said in an address to worshippers in the Vatican.

"Getting rid of a human being is like resorting to a contract killer to solve a problem," he added.

"Is it just to resort to a contract killer to solve a problem?"

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.

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