Pope Francis is deeply unpopular with many conservatives in the Vatican, an Irish priest who campaigns for a more open church has stated.

Fr Tony Flannery (68) said German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller is the leader of the anti-Francis group.

Muller heads up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the group that has opposed any liberalizing moves.

“Müller is the leader of an anti-Francis faction in the Vatican in Rome,” he told the Marian Finucane show on RTE Radio.

“He would generally be seen as the leader of that. There is an enormous power struggle going on in the Vatican at the moment. There’s no doubt about that.

“A lot of people there who are very unhappy with the type of thing that Francis is doing...He [Francis] hasn’t as yet touched the power of the CDF, and the information I’m getting is that the CDF’s power is very much as it always was, and they are operating very much as they always have been,” he said.

Fr Flannery said that he had been “officially silenced” by the Vatican led by the CDF in 2012, when they objected to his stance on child abuse.

"At the height of the clerical sexual abuse cases in Ireland, I wrote in an article 'The priesthood in Ireland now is not as Jesus intended,'" he said.

He said he was silenced by CDF afterwards.

“If I want to get back into Ministry officially, I’ll have to play the game of the CDF,” he added.

“Maybe in 10 years if I’m dying of cancer, they’ll lift the sanctions.”