The Catholic church is investigating an Italian priest after he shocked parishioners by burning a photo of former Pope Benedict XVI during mass on Sunday.

According to the Italian publication La Repubblica, 67-year-old Father Andrea Maggi told churchgoers at Santo Stefano church in Castelvittorio that he had used a candle to set the pope's photo on fire because a "shepherd never leaves his flock."

"I'm doing this because he has not been a Pope, he has abandoned us," Maggi allegedly said.

The priest went on to compare Benedict to Captain Francesco Schettino, the Italian cruise ship captain who was accused of abandoning his ship last year after it ran aground off the Tuscan coast.

"I thought to myself, 'Are you the Pope or are you Captain Schettino of the Concordia who abandoned his ship?'" Maggi recalled to La Repubblica, according to a translation provided by the Daily Mail. "If eight years was enough of being Pope, he didn't need to accept it. He created 90 cardinals, he wasn't some novice or ingenue, who didn't know what they were getting into."

Sky News on Monday reported that church officials had launched an investigation into Maggi's actions.

"This was an abominable action," Bishop Alberto Maria Careggio insisted. "I'm mortified by the actions of Father Andrea who in the past has always been a very generous and sensible priest. I'm arranging a meeting with him as soon as possible."

Pope Benedict XVI announced last month that he would become the first pope in over 700 years to resign of his own free will.