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Then-newly elected Pope Benedict XVI, known as German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, blesses pilgrims from the balcony of the St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this April 19, 2005 file photo.

KAI PFAFFENBACH/REUTERS

An Italian priest set fire to a photo of Pope Benedict during Sunday Mass in protest against his abdication, telling a shocked congregation that the former pontiff had abandoned his flock.

"It was wonderful," the Rev. Andrea Maggi from Santo Stefano Protomartire church in the small northern village of Castel Vittorio, told La Repubblica daily, defending his act.

He compared Benedict, who resigned as pope on Thursday, to Captain Francesco Schettino, who is accused of abandoning the Costa Concordia cruise ship that capsized off the Italian coast before all passengers were rescued.

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Gian Stefano Orengo, mayor of the municipality in the northwestern Liguria region, told Italian radio the action had prompted half of the congregation to walk out.

"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, adding that Maggi then used a candle flame set alight the photo of Benedict.

Orengo said he would inform Church authorities about the incident, adding that Maggi was going through a "fragile" time from a psychological point of view.

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