The Catholic Church has excommunicated a priest who tried to have himself made a bishop without the Pope's permission.
Wollongong Bishop Peter Ingham announced the excommunication of Father Malcolm Broussard - a follower of the Little Pebble cult - and any Catholic who adheres to him.
But the Little Pebble, William Kamm, said yesterday the excommunication was invalid and revealed plans to sue the church for "defamation, religious persecution and . . . other things".
His group, the Order of St Charbel, claims to have 500,000 members in 160 countries but only a couple of hundred in Australia. It was founded in Nowra, after Mr Kamm reported receiving visions and messages from the Virgin Mary, who gave him the name Little Pebble.
The Catholic Church has formally repudiated the cult.
According to the chancellor of the Wollongong diocese, Father Peter Comensoli, Father Broussard went to a schismatic archbishop in Germany in March and sought to be ordained bishop.
"The very attempt without the Pope's mandate is automatic excommunication," Father Comensoli said. "Malcolm has done it to himself."
Excommunication bars one from the sacraments and aims to draw the offender to repentance and restoration. It is rare in Australia, although Mary McKillop - since beatified - was briefly excommunicated in 1871.
Father Comensoli said Father Broussard was validly ordained a priest in Houston, US, but a Texan bishop removed his faculties before he came to Australia, so he had no standing here.
Mr Kamm said Father Broussard's ordination as bishop was valid because three cardinals in 1996 had endorsed the "schismatic" archbishop as legitimate.
He acknowledged that a canonical investigation last year repudiated his teaching, but said the decree had no standing. Under canon law, when a finding was appealed it was suspended, and he had appealed three times, without reply.
He said: "The excommunication makes no difference to us, believe me. We are in dispute with the Catholic Church. We are a pretty big thorn in their side."
Mr Kamm said that the Pope, whom he had met seven times, gave his new religious order the go-ahead in 1985.
Mr Kamm faces court in August on a charge of sexual assault. "I've denied it and pleaded not guilty, and remain so," he said yesterday.