VATICAN CITY – An ultraconservative society threw out an Italian priest Friday after he expressed doubts about the Holocaust, news reports said.
The Italian branch of the Society of St. Pius X said it expelled the Rev. Floriano Abrahamowicz to prevent its image from being "distorted," the ANSA and Apcom news agencies said, citing a statement from the society.
The Vatican rehabilitated four excommunicated bishops from the society last month, sparking outrage since one of them, British Bishop Richard Williamson, said he did not believe any Jews were gassed during the Holocaust.
Abrahamowicz had defended Williamson and also expressed doubts about the extent of the Holocaust in remarks to La Tribuna di Treviso, a newspaper in northern Italy.
In the interview, which he said later he stood by, he said he knew gas chambers existed to "disinfect" but that "I can't say if anybody was killed in them or not."
This week, he was quoted as saying on Italian TV that the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings which paved the way for liberal reforms in the Roman Catholic Church, was "worse than heresy."
ANSA and Apcom quoted a statement from the Italian branch of the society saying Abrahamowicz's expulsion took effect Friday "for serious reasons of discipline."
"The Rev. Floriano Abrahamowicz has for some time expressed positions that differ from the official ones of the Society of St. Pius X," the agencies quoted the statement as saying.
"The expulsion decision, while difficult, was deemed necessary to prevent the image of the Society of St. Pius X from being further distorted, and thus hurt its work in the service of the church."
Officials at the society reached late Friday said they weren't authorized to speak to the media about the matter.
The Holy See on Jan. 24 announced the rehabilitation of Williamson and three other bishops who were excommunicated in 1988 after being consecrated without papal consent by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
Lefebvre founded the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X in 1969 opposed to the Vatican II reforms, including its outreach to Jews.
Days before the rehabilitation was announced, Williamson was shown on Swedish state television saying historical evidence "is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed" during World War II.
The society ordered Williamson to end public comments about the matter and distanced itself from his views, but he remains a bishop in the society, based in La Reja, Argentina.
Williamson apologized to Benedict for having stirred controversy, but he did not repudiate his comments, in which he also said only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews were killed during World War II and none were gassed.
After an outcry from Jewish groups and Roman Catholic bishops in Benedict's native Germany, the Vatican this week demanded that Williamson recant his views before he could be admitted as a bishop into the Roman Catholic Church.
The Vatican also said the society as a whole had to recognize the teachings of Vatican II and all the popes that came during and after it in order to have a full canonical recognition by the Church.