Shortly before he delivered a speech denouncing “every form of violence against women,” Pope Francis was seen slapping a woman who had grabbed him as he greeted a crowd of devotees.

The image of a visibly annoyed Pope Francis slapping his way free from the clutches of an admirer as he walked by Catholic faithful on New Year’s Eve instantly went viral on social media. 

However, a personal apology statement was given on Wednesday.

“We lose patience many times,” he confessed. “It happens to me too. I apologise for the bad example given yesterday.”

Pope Francis had greeted children before the Nativity scene on Saint Peter’s square and was turning away when a woman yanked his hand and almost caused him to fall.

The 83-year-old pope scowled before managing to break free, slapping her hand twice as a security guard intervened.