Bologna priest Don Francesco Piero was quoted by local paper Il Resto del Carlino as posting on his Facebook page: "Who has more innocent deaths on their conscience, Totò Riina or Emma Bonino?", referring to a mafia 'boss of bosses' who died last week and Bonino, a prominent campaigner for abortion rights.
He went on to say that "morally, there's no difference" between the two.
Riina, a mafia killer nicknamed 'The Beast' in reference to his cruelty, died of cancer on Friday. He had been serving 26 life sentences for ordering an estimated 150 murders, including those of anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, and a 13-year-old boy.
Former Foreign Minister Emma Bonino is known for her campaigns to legalize divorce and support both religious and sexual freedom. She was jailed for three weeks in 1975 for protesting in favour of abortion rights, and promoted the referendum which led to the legalization of the medical procedure.
She accused Piero of insulting millions of women with his comments.
"Insults reflect on those who make them, not those who receive them," she wrote on Twitter. "I suppose that Don Piero meant my name to represent the millions of women who in one way or another have experienced the trauma of abortion. So the offence was not directed at me but at millions of women."
Gli insulti qualificano chi li fa non chi li riceve. Immagino Don Piero abbia fatto il mio nome per rappresentare milioni di donne che hanno subito in un modo o nell'altro il trauma dell'aborto. L'offesa quindi non l'ha rivolta a me ma a milioni di donne.https://t.co/vKJlEHC0Gw— Emma Bonino (@emmabonino) November 20, 2017
In 2015, Bonino was considered a favourite to take over as Italy's President, but announced that she was undergoing treatment for lung cancer, for which she was given the all-clear later that year.
Italy's former Foreign Minister Emma Bonino. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
Earlier this month, a Facebook post by another Bologna priest, Lorenzo Guidotti, caused outrage when he implied a girl was to blame for being raped because she got "revoltingly drunk" and spent time with an immigrant.
The underage girl told police she had been raped by a North African man she had met in the city while drunk and who had offered to help her find her lost mobile phone. She said she was attacked by him and woke up later, half-naked and with her bag gone.
Guidotti wrote: "Sweetie, I'm sorry, but... you get revoltingly drunk... and then who do you go off with? A North African?"
The Facebook post was only visible to Guidotti's friends, but was picked up and published by Radio Citta del Capo on its website, from where it went viral and was shared by Italy's most-read newspapers.
He later apologized to the girl and her family, while the Bologna archdiocese distanced itself from the priest, saying his opinion "in no way reflects that of the Church, which condemns every sort of violence".