(Pope Benedict XVI looks on as he leads the Chrismal mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 5, 2012. REUTERS/Max Rossi )

Pope Benedict has restated the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women priests and warned that he would not tolerate disobedience by clerics on fundamental teachings. Benedict, who for decades before his 2005 election was the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer, delivered an unusually direct denunciation of disobedient priests in a sermon at a morning Mass on Holy Thursday, when the Church commemorates the day Christ instituted the priesthood.

The pope responded specifically to a call to disobedience by a group of Austrian priests and laity, who last year boldly and openly challenged Church teaching on taboo topics such as priestly celibacy and women’s ordination. “Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church?,” he asked rhetorically in the sermon of a solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on the day Catholic priests around the world renew their vows.

In his response to the Austrian group, his first in public, Benedict noted that, in its “call to disobedience”, it had challenged “definitive decisions of the Church’s magisterium (teaching authority) such as the question of women’s ordination …”

The Austrian group that has demanded sweeping changes is led by the Reverend Helmut Schueller, a former deputy to Vienna archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn. The group, which says it represents about 10 percent of the Austrian clergy, has broad public backing in opinion polls and has said it will break Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and divorced Catholics who remarry.