VATICAN CITY -- A U.S. Catholic priest who supports ordination for women was detained briefly by police Monday after marching to the Vatican to press the Holy See to lift its ban on women priests.
The Rev. Roy Bourgeois and about a dozen supporters had marched down the main boulevard leading to the Vatican holding a banner "Ordain Catholic Women" and chanting outside St. Peter's Square "What do we want? Women priests! When do we want them? Now!"
Police prevented the group from entering the piazza and told them to take down their banners since they didn't have a protest permit. When police then tried to confiscate the banners, members of the group resisted, resulting in Bourgeois and two supporters being taken away in police cars, witnesses said.
The three were detained for about two hours at a Rome police station and released without being arrested or charged, though prosecutors were still investigating, said Bourgeois' attorney, Bill Quigley.
Bourgeois and members of the Women's Ordination Conference and other groups that support women priests had come to Rome to deliver a petition signed by some 15,000 people backing Bourgeois, who is facing dismissal from his Maryknoll order for his support of women's ordination.
The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2008 ordered Bourgeois to recant his support for women priests or risk excommunication after he delivered the homily at the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska, one of several women who have defied the Vatican and begun passing themselves off as Roman Catholic priests.
Church teaching holds that the priesthood is reserved for men, since Christ chose only men as his apostles. Proponents of women's ordination say there is no theological basis for excluding women from the priesthood, that there is evidence of women priests in the early church and that the Vatican's ban is purely sexist.
"If the call to be a priest is a gift and comes from God, how can we as men say that our call from God is authentic but God's call of women is not?" Bourgeois wrote in an open letter to Vatican officials.
The women's ordination movement, while still small, has become something of a thorn in the side of the Vatican: Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI removed an Australian bishop for suggesting the church consider women priests.
Last year, the Vatican made ordaining a woman one of the gravest canonical crimes, on par with sexually abusing a child.
And in Austria, some 300 Catholic priests have joined an initiative "Call to Disobedience" calling for women priests and an end to priestly celibacy, among other church reforms.