The Vatican said on Thursday it had stripped Father Helmut Schueller of the right to use title monsignor and said he also was no longer a "Chaplain of His Holiness". Schueller remains a priest. Schueller, a former deputy to Vienna's archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, had been given the honorary title in his capacity as head of the Austrian branch of the Catholic charity group Caritas. Schueller is head of the group "Call to Disobedience", which has broad public backing in opinion polls and says it represents about 10 percent of the Austrian clergy.
Nearly 150,000 Austrians left the Church in 2011-2012, many in reaction to sexual abuse scandals. The group wants Church rules changed so that priests can marry and women can become priests. It has said it will break Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and divorced Catholics who remarry. Schueller told Austrian media that the Vatican decision had not shaken his principles.
Reformist Austrian Catholics have for decades challenged the conservative policies of Benedict and his predecessor John Paul, creating protest movements and advocating changes the Vatican refuses to make. Schueller has met like-minded clergy in Austria and abroad since launching the "Call to Disobedience" group. Catholic reform groups in Germany, Ireland and the United States have made similar demands from the Church.
The Catholic Church does not allow priests to marry and teaches that it has no authority to allow women to become priests because Jesus willingly chose only men as his apostles when he instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper. Proponents of a female priesthood say Jesus was only adhering to the social norms of his times. Last week, the Vatican disciplined another priest who advocated women's ordination.
Father Ray Bourgeois, an American of the Maryknoll religious order, was kicked out of the priesthood and the order by the Vatican's doctrinal department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Last year, Bourgeois, who had been a priest for 40 years, was among a group of Roman Catholic activists detained by Italian police after they tried to deliver a petition to the Vatican in favour of a female priesthood. Benedict, who for decades before his 2005 election as pope was the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer, directly denounced disobedient priests last April, saying it was not the right path to renewal in the Church.