Rome, March 5: A parish priest near the Italian port city of Genoa stunned members of his congregation when he held up a photo of emeritus pope Benedict XVI and set it alight during Sunday mass, a media report said.
Andrea Maggi said he did not regret his behaviour, Italian daily Repubblica reported.
He likened Benedict to Francesco Schettino, the Italian captain who abandoned his sinking cruiseliner off the Tuscany coast in January last year, after allegedly causing the shipwreck in which 32 people died.
"I did a marvellous thing. He (Benedict) did what Schettino did and abandoned his flock, "said Maggi, who is priest in Castelvittorio village. "I always said that when he resigned, I would do this, and so I did."
"You, Pope, are you a rock or are you Captain Schettino, who jumps ship? If you didn't want the job, you shouldn't have accepted it eight years ago," he added.
Castelvittorio's mayor Gianfstefano Orengo walked out of the Sunday mass in protest against Maggi's gesture.
Benedict XVI, 85, abdicated from the papacy on Feb 28 while claiming he lacked the physical and mental strength to continue.
Meanwhile, Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world have congregated here to begin the process of electing the next pope.
Cardinals held prayers and swore oaths of secrecy at their first meeting, held by the College of Cardinals. There will be a series of daily meetings leading up to a conclave, expected to begin next week, in which a new Pope will be chosen.
The election process comes after Pope Benedict XVI stepped down last week.
He was the first pontiff to resign in 600 years, after nearly eight years in office leading the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.