Pope Benedict XVI warned on Thursday, April 5, that Roman Catholic priests who go against the church's fundamental teachings will be denounced, and reminded of the Church's firm stance against women priests.
The declaration, made a day before Good Friday, comes in direct response to a group of Austrian priests who last year declared they would challenge the Catholic rule against ordaining women, as well as celibacy laws.
"Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church?" the Pope asked at a mass in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. Before becoming the Holy Father in 2005, Benedict had been the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer for decades, and does not support movements which try to undermine positions on which the Catholic Church is very clear.
As was established in an important 1994 document written by Pope John Paul II, the Catholic opposition to women priests is part of its "divine constitution." The ruling was declared to have been "set forth infallibly," and points to the Last Supper, where Jesus Christ only chose men to be his apostles and serve as priests.
"Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one's own preferences and ideas?" the pope added about suggestions to change this ruling.
The Austrian group in question is led by Reverend Helmut Schueller, a former deputy to Vienna archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, and for years has demanded that women be elevated as priests in the Church. The group claims it represents as much as 10 percent of all Austrian clergy, and receives a good deal of public support.
"We believe Church teaching can change. It has changed time and again over the centuries. It is our hope that that can happen again in future," Schueller shared with Reuters, expressing optimism despite the pope's denouncement.
Austrian, German, Irish and U.S. Catholic reform groups have for decades demanded changes to conservative policies, though the Vatican has so far not wavered from its convictions that women should not be ordained.
More than 87,000 Austrians left the Roman Catholic Church in 2010, many citing the constant sexual abuse scandals involving priests as the main reason for their decision.
On Good Friday, the Pope is poised to lead two services commending Jesus' crucifixion, including a Way of the Cross procession at the ruins of Rome's Colosseum.