Pope Francis listens to a journalist’s question as he flies back to Rome following his visit to Brazil July 29, 2013. REUTERS/Luca Zennaro/Pool

An Austrian priest who has stirred controversy in Europe with his challenge to Catholic church teachings on taboo topics suggested on Wednesday that women should be allowed to become priests and said that gays need justice, not just mercy.

Father Helmut Schüller, who has been banned by American bishops from speaking in Catholic churches while on a tour of the United States that began in mid-July, welcomed recent remarks by Pope Francis on gay rights, but said discussion could go further.

Schüller, in a telephone interview, said the pope’s words were a “good opener” and gay people seem to be happy there’s a friendlier tone from the church than in the past.

Schüller, leader of an Austrian priest group known for its “Call to Disobedience” challenging church teachings on taboo topics such as the ordination of women and priests marrying, has been drawing enthusiastic crowds during a 15-city U.S. tour that began in New York in mid-July and starts its West Coast leg on Wednesday.