An Italian parish priest has caused uproar after burning a photograph of Benedict XVI and likening him to the disgraced captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship during a church service.
Father Andrea Maggi shocked parishioners and was criticised by his local bishop after using a candle to set fire to the image of the former pontiff, who last week became the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years.
He likened the Pope Emeritus's resignation to Captain Francesco Schettino's alleged abandoning of the Concordia after he steered it into Giglio, an island off the Italian coast a year ago. "Am I sorry for having burned the photo of the Pope? No. He's behaved like Schettino, he abandoned his flock," said Father Maggi, 67, from the hilltop town of Castel Vittorio in the north-western coastal region of Liguria.
Father Maggi said Benedict should have acted as a "rock" to the Roman Catholic Church and remained in office until death. "If he didn't want the job, he shouldn't have accepted it eight years ago," he said. "He's hardly an ingenue or a novice. He created 90 cardinals – it's not like he didn't know what he was doing."
The local mayor stormed out of the Mass and the bishop of nearby Ventimiglia, Alberto Maria Careggio, said the "execrable" gesture had caused grave offence. The priest said the bishop should "mind his own business".
While the Vatican has portrayed Benedict's abdication as a noble and selfless act, after he said he no longer had the strength to carry on, there have been voices of dissent from within.
George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, who will take part in the conclave to elect a new pope, said that the resignation set a potentially dangerous precedent for the church./The Daliy Telegraph/