Church chiefs in Italy have launched an investigation after an Italian priest set fire to a photograph of former Pope Benedict XVI in front of dozens of stunned worshippers.
Father Andrea Maggi, 67, ignited the picture during a sermon, saying that Benedict had “abandoned” the Catholic Church.
He then went on to compare him, to Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino, who was been accused of fleeing his post and leaving passengers on the stranded cruise ship. Father Andrea, a priest for more than 40 years, told the packed service at Santo Stefano church in Castelvittorio near Imperia: “I’m doing this because he has not been a Pope, he has abandoned us.
A shepherd never leaves his flock.” Parishioners including children, looked on amazed as the picture of Benedict, who resigned last week after eight years as Pontiff was enveloped in flames before the priest let it drop to the ground and burn itself out.
Father Andrea is unrepentant, and said: “I’d said that I would burn his picture the day he left and that’s what I did. I’m glad what I did has caused such an outcry. I don’t have maize in my head. We are not in a communist state. “I’m not interested in his reasons for leaving. The job of Pope is for life. He should not have left. He’s behaved just like (Francesco) Schettino. Where is the proof of his faith? “The Pope said this was the year of faith and he then leaves his post as head of the church.”
Bishop Alberto Maria Careggio, of the diocese, said: “This was an abominable action. I’m mortified by the actions of Father Andrea who in the past has always been a very generous and sensible priest. I’m arranging a meeting with him as soon as possible.”
Benedict said he made the shock decision, the first time a Pope has resigned in 600 years because he “felt tired”. However by stepping down he has angered many Catholics and some senior Church chiefs as the job is for life. Locals in his parish, which nestles in a picturesque medieval hilltop village, have described him as “very strict and ultra orthodox”.
Before the incident Father Maggi, who has been a priest there for five years, had been complaining bitterly about Benedict’s decision. Gianstefano Orengo, mayor of Castel Vittorio, who witnessed the incident, said: “Certainly everyone knew Father Andrea was upset and angry at Benedict’s announcement. “It was a shocking thing to see. I know it may be a difficult time for him but it was still a serious thing to do.”
He pulled out a picture of the Pope and then used a nearby candle to ignite it as he started his sermon. “It lasted a minute or so and he then said Benedict had acted in a similar fashion to (Francesco) Schettino who left his post when the Costa Concordia struck rocks and with passengers still needed to be saved. People were shocked and started complaining and several including myself left the service.
There was no justification at all for it even if there are mitigating circumstances. “People were shocked and started complaining and several including myself left the service. There was no justification at all for it even if there are mitigating circumstances.” Meanwhile cardinals in Rome have begun their discussions ahead of setting a date for the start of the conclave which will elect the next Pope, with the selection process expected to begin in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel next week.