updated 10/9/2007 11:45:49 AM ET 2007-10-09T15:45:49

An Italian priest who publicly declared his love for a woman has lost his job, the diocese said Tuesday.

The Rev. Sante Sguotti can no longer work as pastor in his Monterosso parish and cannot hear confessions from the faithful, the diocese of Padua said in a statement. Sguotti remains a priest and can celebrate Mass, however.

Sguotti made headlines in August when he went on national television to say he was in love with a woman and wanted to be her boyfriend publicly while remaining chaste.

Celibacy debate
The case reignited the debate over priestly celibacy, particularly because the woman in question has a young son, whom Sguotti said he had helped name. He dodged direct questions about whether he was the boy's father, saying only that he cannot have a child according to church law.

Bishop Antonio Mattiazzo issued a decree on Monday removing Sguotti from his pastoral duties, saying he was doing so because Sguotti "had been linked for some time to a woman and had asked for a dispensation to go out with her."

Men in the Eastern rite of the Catholic church who are married can become priests, and the Vatican has accepted into the priesthood some married Anglican priests who converted to Catholicism.

But the Vatican has constantly refused to relax the celibacy requirement for Latin rite priests. The Vatican reaffirmed that last November, when Pope Benedict XVI convened a summit of clergy who rebuffed a crusade by Emmanuel Milingo, the renegade Zambian archbishop who was excommunicated last year after marrying a woman and launching a campaign for the Vatican to allow priests to marry.

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