Another leading member of the traditionalist Catholic Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has denied that gas chambers were used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews during the Second World War.
''I know that gas chambers existed as a means to disinfect, but I cannot say for sure if they killed anyone because I really haven't looked into it,'' Father Floriano Abrahamowicz, the head of SSPX in northeast Italy, told the Tribuna di Treviso daily on Thursday.
The ultraconservative priest's statements came a day after Israeli's highest religious authority, the Chief Rabbinate, threatened to sever ties with the Vatican after Pope Benedict XVI lifted an excommunication on four SSPX bishops, including one who has repeatedly denied that the Shoah took place.
The pope immediately responded by reiterating his strong stand against denying the Holocaust, saying that it was important to never forget the Shoah. This to appeared avert an official break, although the Rabbinate has yet to make a formal statement.
The Rabbinate, as well as Jewish leaders in Italy and around the world, were particularly upset over the reinstatement of Bishop Richard Williamson. The British-born bishop recently told Swedish TV that he did not believe in the existence of gas chambers. In his view not six million but only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps ''and not one of them in a gas chamber''.
The current SSPX head, Bishop Bernard Fellay, stated firmly that Williamson's views did not reflect those of the order and he apologised to the pope for any problems his views may have created.
He has also ordered Williamson not to voice his political opinions in public.
However, according to Father Abrahamowicz, ''all this fuss over Msgr Williamson's statements is being exploited against the Vatican. Williamson simply expressed his doubts. He did not deny the Holocaust, as the press has mistakenly said he did; he only gave a technical opinion on the gas chambers''.
''The question of denying the Holocaust is a false problem because it focuses on numbers and methods and does not address the real problem,'' he added.
''Had Msgr. Williamson denied on TV the (1915) genocide of 1.2 million Armenians by the Turks I don't think the press would have acted the same way ,'' Father Abrahamowicz said.
The Vatican has yet to reply to the ultra-conservative priest, but when Milan Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi was asked for his view he observed that ''the Holy Father has been clear and explicit'' on the church's relations with both the SSPX and Jews.
Lifting the excommunication on the four bishops, he added, ''was an act of mercy which in no way represented a compromise,'' he said.
In order to truly return to the fold, the archbishop added, they must renew ''their loyalty to the Church and its teachings,'' including the changes made by the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s.
The archbishop of Treviso, Msgr, Andrea Bruno Mazzoccato, adopted a similar position and told the members of his diocese that any stance on the Holocaust which differed from the one expressed by the pope ''has no foundation and is unconnected to Christian thought and an elementary sense of humanity''.
He then repeated the pope's warning to be on guard against ''the unexpected power which evil can exert on the hearts of man''.
The SSPX was created in 1970 by late dissident French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who broke with Rome over the changes made at the Vatican Council.
Among the changes the group opposed was the decision to celebrate Mass in local languages rather than in Latin and to adopt the view that Jews today should not be blamed for the death of Christ. Lefebvre, who died in 1991, was excommunicated in 1998 for ordaining four bishops, including Williamson, in defiance of a direct order from John Paul II. The four bishops were also excommunicated.
Abrahamowicz's views have come under heavy fire from the governor of the Veneto region, where the headquarters of his SSPX branch is located.
''I don't know if we're dealing with plain ignorance, madness or some horrifying political choice, but if any priest denies the Holocaust, denies the existence of gas chambers, then he'd best change jobs,'' said Giancarlo Galan, of the center-right People of Freedom party, ''And if any of these priests happen to live in the Veneto region, as is the case with Father Abrahamowicz, then they'd best move out and, who knows, even take refuge in one of those concentration camps they know so much about,'' he added.
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