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Pope Francis says he 'stole' his late confessor's cross

Francis made the claim during a meeting about forgiveness with Roman priests

Pope Francis has admitted he took the rosary cross of his late confessor from the dead man’s casket and still wears it in a fabric pouch under his cassock.

Francis made the confession during an informal chat with Roman priest about the need to be merciful to their flocks. He said he told the late priest: “Give me half your mercy.”

Francis was telling the story of the “great confessor” of Buenos Aires, who had heard confessions from most of his diocesan priests as well as from Pope John Paul II when he visited Argentina.

When the priest died, Francis went to pray at his open casket and was shocked that no one had left any flowers.

He said: ''This man forgave the sins of all the priests of Buenos Aires, but not a single flower ...?"

Francis left and returned with a bouquet of roses. As he was arranging them, he noticed that the priest still held a rosary in his hand.

"And immediately there came to mind the thief we all have inside ourselves and while I arranged the flowers I took the cross and with just a bit of force I removed it," he said, showing with his hands how he pulled the cross off the rosary.

"And in that moment I looked at him and I said 'Give me half your mercy."' 

Francis said he kept the token in his shirt pocket for years, but transferred it to a pouch when he became pope as his cassock does not have a pocket.

"And whenever a bad thought comes to mind about someone, my hand goes here, always," he said, gesturing to his heart.

"And I feel the grace, and that makes me feel better." 

Additional reporting by Associated Press