This week Pope Francis raised eyebrows around the world when he told a group of 800 visiting nuns they must be spiritual mothers and not 'old maids.'

According to the Huffington Post Pope Francis warned the nuns against allowing their personal ambition to overshadow their vocations, because priests and nuns who do so 'do more harm to the church.'

Francis, 76, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires said: 'Men and women of the Church who are careerists, social climbers, who use the people, the Church, brothers and sisters — those they should serve — as a springboard for their own ambitions and personal interests do great damage to the Church.'

The pope reportedly made the eyebrow raising comments about old maids during an audience in Rome on Wednesday with nuns attending an assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, which gathers the leaders of women's religious orders from 75 countries.

But the message to women to forget about personal ambition struck some as odd since it was being made amid the dazzling Renaissance palaces and private residences of the Vatican, although Pope Francis seems determined to make a break with such sumptuous impressions.

The pope's instruction also comes after several years of Vatican investigation into the American convents, checking up on the nuns.

A Vatican-ordered investigation called the Apostolic Visitation was followed by another Vatican group, the hardline conservative Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

The findings of the latter group allegedly claim that the vast majority of American nuns are now pushing 'radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.'

By working quietly with the poor and the sick rather than speaking out loudly against abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, and the ordination of women the nuns have been letting the church down, the report claims, since their silence is being interpreted to demonstrate their approval.

But many American nuns believe that the hierarchy in Rome is simply worried that the American nuns will influence other nuns around the world. 'That’s why the men in the Vatican want control, what they see as influence, we see as enlightenment,' one senior US nun told the press last year.