The Rev. Andrea Maggi of Santo Stefano Protomartire Church in Castelvittorio, on Italy's northwestern coast, was unapologetic for burning the photo.
“It was wonderful,” he told the Italian daily La Repubblica.
Maggi’s protest evoked memories of Sinead O’Connor, the Irish singer and Roman Catholic who controversially ripped up a picture of Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, during a 1992 appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”
Congregants were not pleased by Maggi’s display; half of the church members who were present at Sunday Mass walked out of the church, Castelvittorio Mayor Gian Stefano Orengo told Italian radio.
"Before starting the homily, the priest took the photo of the pope, and he said this is not a pope, this is not a shepherd, he abandoned his flock," Orengo said, according to Reuters.
That’s when the Italian priest held a candle to Benedict’s photo and burned the image of the former pope.
“I am doing it because he was not a pope,” Maggi told the church’s parishioners, according to Italian media outlet Corriere della Sera. “He abandoned us.”
Orengo, who saw Maggi burn the photo, said he would notify church authorities about Maggi’s actions, adding that the priest was going through a “fragile” time psychologically, Reuters reported.
“It was a shocking gesture, committed before a dozen children. ... Many parishioners protested, and others, like me, left, bewildered,” the mayor said. “I understand that Don Andrea is going through a delicate period. But this is a very serious gesture. "
Bishop Alberto Maria Careggio, whose jurisdiction includes Castelvittorio, called the incident “execrable.
“[It] has gravely damaged the church and confused parishioners," he said, according to the New York Daily News. “This act has caused confusion among the faithful. I am mortified by the action of Don Andrea, who in other respects has proved a most generous and sensitive priest.”
Shocking the world, Benedict abruptly announced his resignation as pope on Feb. 11. He officially stepped down Thursday.
The College of Cardinals, the body responsible for choosing the next pope, first met on Monday as it decides on Benedict’s successor. No date has been set for the conclave, the process used to name the next pope, a Vatican spokesman said.