Pope condemns Austrian priests

Pope Benedict XVI has sharply condemned a group of dissident Austrian priests and laymen for questioning key teachings of the Catholic Church.

The group, known as the Pfarrer Initiative, has challenged the church on topics such as priestly celibacy and its ban on female priests.

Speaking during a Maundy Thursday mass in the Vatican, the Pope said he would not tolerate disobedience.

Correspondents say the pontiff’s criticism was unusually outspoken.

About 15 per cent of Austria’s 2,000 priests signed the initiative’s call for disobedience in June last year.

The appeal calls for “long-needed reforms” and the “admission of women and married people to the priesthood”.

The Pope said he understood that the priests were acting out of concern for the Church and thought drastic action was needed.

“But is disobedience really a way to do this?” he asked worshippers gathered in St Peter’s basilica.

He accused the group of making “a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas”.

The Pope added that his teachings on the subjects raised by the group were not his own, but the Church’s.

“We preach not private theories and opinions, but the faith of the Church, whose servants we are,” he said.

He also directly rebuffed demands for the Church to allow the ordination of women, “for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord”.

Maundy Thursday is the day when Catholic priests traditionally renew the vows they made when they were ordained, including that of celibacy.